Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

2010, 84 min. R – some blood, a couple butchered animals, completely non-erotic full frontals as old men run through the snow with their willies flopping around, as only Finns can do.

IMDB says... In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 metres deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up! This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.

The 73rd Virgin says... Looking at the title on Instant View, I only saw Rare Exports and assumed this was a compilation of Finnish art house movies, but my wife observed it was a Christmas movie and had good reviews, so we jumped in to find some exquisite dead-pan far northern European humor, a bit of horror, and a fine kick-off to the Christmas movie review season.

In a funny prologue, a visiting scientist lets on that his seismologists are approaching a great find, and, by the way, here are some new safety regulations, including “wash behind the ears”. It is 24 days ‘til Christmas.

Young Pietari is a typical, I guess, Finnish boy who lives with his widowed father who makes at least part of his living as a butcher, especially during the reindeer herding season. They live in an undefined village on the Finland-Russia border and observe the seismologists on a strange rise of land just over the border. The horns that appear in the smoke from the explosion are nifty foreshadowing.

Pietari, about 10 years old, always has an over-under shotgun slung over one shoulder (for wolves) and a pet stuffed animal, Vuppe, that he takes everywhere on a leash. There is no evidence of women or schools in his community. The grown men favor coveralls with tool belts festooned with every provision imaginable.

Pietari is concerned about Santa’s knowledge of his misdeeds, including cutting through a fence on the Russian border and perhaps accidentally allowing wolves to attack the reindeer population upon which his village depends.

He stays up all night trying to catch Santa spying on him through the window and surrounds himself with books on Christmas mythology that describe a Santa focused rather more unpleasantly on the naughty than the nice. His bag does not appear to be filled with toys.

In one of several sight gags, a following scene finds Pietari wearing his hockey pads and a piece of fiberglass insulation taped across his butt. As the nature of what was in the frozen block of ice the drillers have dug up is revealed, only Pietari knows that a very angry Santa is coming back with his elves (old naked men who like bloody meat - and gingerbread - and can smell naughty boys).  Even Pietari can’t figure out why all the stoves and hairdryers and potato sacks in the village have gone missing. Soon his friends start to disappear, too.

I can’t think of a template for this movie. Fans of “A Christmas Story” will see some of Ralphie in the doughty Pietari, but the story is goofier, and the sense of irony is buried beneath layers of northern European stoicism. The blend of mild horror, humor, and loving and complete misunderstanding between father and son, is pretty unique. The acting by Onni Tommila and Jorma Tommila is notable.

There is a running joke about the 22% value added tax on every damn thing. And we learn that no matter how unlikely the target, hunters the world over react in pretty much the same way when it comes to antlers.

The conclusion is neither horror nor drama, but muted humor, including the hoariest intentional action film clichés, as Pietari - with insulation still in place - and his father and a helicopter pilot fight to save the village, and then figure a way to monetize their last remaining resource.

I wish Christmas movies had been this inventive when I was young.


  1. Everywhere I turn these days folks are talking about this movie. I need to break down and finally see it. That nordic humor is a thing to behold. Very nice review