DVD Review: Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

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Review: Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale (15)/ Directed and written by: Jalmari Helander/ Starring: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Raunu Juvonen

Well, it’s not everyday you get to watch a film which ends with a young Finnish boy hanging off a helicopter and leading 180 furious naked old men wielding axes across the snow towards an empty reindeer enclosure. Yep, that’s a new one even here at Starburst Towers…

This, you’ll hopefully be relieved to hear, is not some outlandish and unlikely late night porn movie but rather ‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’ a charming, entirely insane, quirky little foreign language (gasp!) movie which enjoyed the briefest of theatrical runs last December (no!) and arrives now on DVD in the UK where it’ll scare the living bejeebers out of any unsuspecting kids who chances upon it but may well delight and amuse adults who prefer their Christmas entertainment with a little edge and a lot of bleak black humour. ‘Rare Exports’ is the low budget Christmas movie Tim Burton will never make, combining elements of ‘The Thing’ and  ‘E.T’ (and even, coincidentally, the flavour of this year’s ‘Super 8’) to create something wonderfully left-of-centre and not quite right, a film which manages to deconstruct Christmas like no movie since ‘Bad Santa’ whilst simultaneously being a joyous and almost life-affirming evocation of the core values of the festive season. It’s all very odd. 

Rare Exports’ actually has its roots in two internet short movies from the same director and this film is very much a prequel to those efforts. It’s December in Lapland (where else?) and it’s snowing. An excavation team dig up something large and horned from the ice - is this the real-life Santa, a child-devouring beast of a man, or is it something else altogether? In the neighbouring village (little more than a few draughty shacks) strange things start to happen; reindeer are slaughtered, radiators are stolen from the houses and, most disturbingly, local children are snatched and replaced by woven dolls. Chilly local lad Pietari (Onni Tommita) and his father, a reindeer hunter (honestly) come into possession of the frozen creature, a withered old man whom they first assume is dead. But he’s actually far from dead and, as it turns out, he’s far from alone. As Pietari’s father and his friend try to sell the old man (whom they take to be the real Santa) to the leader of the excavation corporation (“What a midget!”), they’re attacked by a very unusual, very specific and very angry army. Santa’s helpful (and elderly) elves are on the march; one of their number has been captured, Santa’s frozen in a block of ice and it looks like it’s going to be a very strange Christmas indeed in Lapland.

Yep, you got it right; ‘Rare Exports’ is barking mad and yet that’s what makes it so enchanting and so damned different. In some ways Helander’s movie absolutely takes its cues from the crème of Hollywood - there’s more than a little Spielberg and Joe Dante running through this one’s celluloid veins - but it’s also got a distinct European vibe about it with its silent, crunching snowy locations and its cast of characters all wrapped up against the winter chill and living in what appear to be barely subsistence level conditions. Against these odds it’s a warm and embracing film, playing up to old, largely-forgotten Finnish folk tales which depicted Santa Claus as a ghoulish night-prowler who, far from rewarding kids with Xboxes and Wiis (I’m up with the kids), crept about and punished them for being naughty, not nice. ‘Rare Exports’, with its startling imagery of dozens of naked geriatrics raging through the snow, also answers the age-old question of just how Santa manages to visit every child in the world in the space of just one night…

‘Rare Exports’ won’t be to everyone’s tastes but it was certainly to mine. Across its brief, seventy-odd minute running time, it manages to be nightmarish, grotesque, funny, surprising and ultimately really rather magical. As a Christmas movie it’s  like nothing you’ll have seen before and it’s absolutely the perfect antidote to the saccharine sweetness of modern perennial festive faves like ‘Shrek the Halls.’ If you’re looking for something wild and off-the-wall and yet with a heart of gold lurking in its darkness, or if you just fancy something not churned out by Hollywood’s fantasy factory, ‘Rare Exports’ is very highly recommended. Drop a line to Santa right now and put it at the top of your Christmas list…

Special features: Piisakkaa (that’s Finnish for ‘absolutely nothing’….do keep up!)

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‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’ is out on DVD in the UK now


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