Well it’s officially December and therefore within enough proximity to the 25th to incite a riot of Christmas spirit…at least within me. As with Halloween, Christmas is a time of year when we are awash in films that are so requisite for the season that they are almost holy doctrine. Whether your fancy is the Rankin and Bass animated films, Hallmark Channel original fluff, or the exploits of little Ralphie as he pines for holiday firearms, there is no shortage of Christmas movies from which to choose. The one thing that much of the holiday fare has in common is the inclusion of a certain jolly obese man. No, not Tim Allen after a cocaine bender, I’m referring to ol’ St. Nick himself: Santa Claus.
You’d be hard-pressed to find one person in a Christmas-observing country across the planet who hasn’t heard of Santa Claus. And though many incarnations of this magical old elf exist, there are a few standard tropes. He wears a red suit, has a beard, and flies in the face of law and order by annually breaking into your home and getting off without even a citation. But have you ever given any thought as to the origins of the legend of Santa Claus? If you enjoy the construct of Santa as the ultimate paradigm of seasonal joy and love, I would advise against digging into the Black Peter myth or exploring the pagan associations to this supposedly merry chap. But if you have a penchant for the dark side of the season then not only do I recommend engaging in this research, but also checking out a film called Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
Rare Exports is a Finnish film that will begin limited theatrical release in the U.S. this week. It is the story of a young boy living with his father in a remote village in the middle of the tundra. Not far from their home, a team of obsessed scientists are digging and blasting their way deep into the Earth on a desperate search for a mysterious artifact. Before long, livestock are butchered and children begin disappearing from the village. Could this be related to the researchers and their quest for a dark Christmas secret? When a feral and terribly violent old man arrives at the home of our young hero, he becomes convinced that Santa has officially come to town…with a vengeance.
I had the great fortune of seeing Rare Exports at Fantastic Fest here in Austin back in September. It ended up being one of the surprise hits of the festival and got DVD distribution right away. It wasn’t until recently that I learned of its limited theatrical release and I would highly suggest seeing this film in a theater. It is tense and exciting, but also funny and heart-warming at points. To me, it feels like a Finnish version of an Amblin film, which is neither a small compliment nor is it over-praise. The young protagonist of the film is a remarkable actor and it is impossible not to love him. The gorgeous landscape of this frozen wonderland makes for breathtaking cinematography and I was quite impressed with the twists and turns of the story.
But overall, what Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale really amounts to is a wholly unique holiday film experience. It mixes established, if obscure, folklore with established Christmas canon to stir an interesting spectrum of affective responses. It is a film that brings out the kid inside all of us only to scare the pants of him. By the end, when the boy becomes a pint-sized action hero with all the bravado and one-liners that made Sylvester Stallone a blockbuster titan, you find yourself feeling grateful for a sincere holiday cinematic experience that resides thousands of miles north of typical. The ending of the film is among the most wonderfully bizarre left turns of any film I’ve seen, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t fit Rare Exports like a lovingly-knit Christmas sweater.
Check your local listings and, if you’ve been really good this year, Rare Exports just may be playing near you!