December 12, 2011

Eyes on Christmas: Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale

Well, hasn't this marathon taken a turn for the awesome. After mediocrity like Call Me Claus, awfulness like A Christmas Too Many, and the utter oddness of Santa Claus (1959), it is nice to sit back with some genuinely awesome holiday films. First there was Gremlins which, let's face it, is a flat out great movie. Not perfect by any stretch, but I is hard not to have a good time with it. Now we have one that was a first time watch for me, I had heard good thins about it, but I was caught off guard by just how great it is. Again, it is not perfect by any stretch, but it is one I can find myself revisiting many times.

The movie is the Finnish export Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. It is a Christmas horror film that blends myth, fantasy, coming of age, and genuine sense of unease under one roof. It is an insidious movie that sucked me and then flipped the crazy switch when things start to unfold in the second half of the movie. It caught me off guard.

I had heard some positive word about it, but I had no idea how it would get me. Now, before the film was made last year, a couple of shorts were made, on in 2003 and one on 2005. I did not see either of these until after the film, but I can see how they would help fire interest in a feature.

As the movie opens we are introduced to an American of some wealth who is sponsoring an archaeological dig in a mountain. His reasons for digging are rather secretive and specific. It is revealed that he is searching for Santa Claus. You see, he was a real person and this is said to be his burial mound.

The scene shifts to a young boy who reads up on the legend of Santa and learns that the Coca-Cola Santa is a lie. The real Claus turns out to be not so nice of a fellow who seems more interested in punishing naughty children. He becomes convinced that Santa is coming back due to the dig on the mountain, but no one seems to pay attention. Reindeer are found slaughtered, kids disappear, and our young hero is scared of what is coming.

The boys father and a couple other townsfolk find an old man caught in one of their traps. The man is barely alive and mostly unresponsive, save for the creepy looks he gives the boy. The men surmise that this is Santa that the Americans are looking for and attempt to sell him to the diggers.

Well, this is where things begin to go a little sideways and take a turn for the crazy. I dare not reveal any more. This is an original film that is worth experiencing relatively fresh from any overly specific details regarding the plot directions.

I will say that I have seen a movie quite like this before. When it started, I wasn't quite sure I was going to like it; however, it was not long before I was drawn into the drama. This film is well acted, believable, and everything is played completely straight. This is a story that very easily could have veered into camp, but it never does.

Rare Exports is one of those rare exceptions where the creative took a creative idea and created something new and fresh out of it. This is a movie to savor, to enjoy, to give much respect for its originality and creativity. It may have traditions different than those here in the States, but the movie has traces of some of the masterworks from Spielberg, Dante, and Carpenter. If you are looking for something different, something original, fresh, different, than this is it. On top of that, it is heartwarming as well, led by solid performances from the boy and his father (Onni Tomila and his real life father Jorma).

This is the first feature from writer/director Jalmari Helander. It is a creation of maturity and vision and I really look forward to seeing what he does next. He was also the maker of he two prior shorts which are also well worth watching.

Rare Exports is a holiday treat.

Highly Recommended.

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