In 2003 Jalmari Hedlander made a short movie. It was about hunting, capturing and training wild Father Christmases (which would probably be more accurately pluralized as Fathers Christmas, Like Surgeons General or Knights Templar) to ship all over the world. The story is sort of like the answer to where all the mall Santas come from. The short film was praised and awarded for its deadpan comedy and commentary on the over-commercialization of Christmas. When it was released on Youtube it was such a huge success that it prompted another short film, again by Jalmari Hedlander, about what happens when a Father Christmas goes bad and how to keep such a thing from ever happening. Released in 2005 “The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions 2005” is, like the first video, hilarious, darling, and poignant. It also was a YouTube success.
Riding on this Holiday fervor, The full-length film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” was filmed and released in 2010. Much like the shorts, it manages to impress and enthrall. It takes a slightly different tone and approach to the mythology of Santa Claus than the shorts but it is no less enjoyable.
The story follows a son, Pietari (Onni Tommila), and his father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila) as they attempt to eke out a living in Lappland, Finland on the Russian border. Just on the other side of the Finland/Russia fence is a mining production that is unearthing a grave mound the size of a mountain. Something strange and supernatural is down there, and an eccentric British millionaire is intent upon bringing it up.
Pietari is intrigued by the local legends of Father Christmas. Traditionally, Father Christmas is not only devilishly inhuman, but also frighteningly sadistic, torturing young children and boiling them alive. In legend, Santa Claus is much more of a boogie man than a friendly, old man who delivers toys. Because Pietari is guilty of having lied to his father and has not been given any form of physical punishment in a very long time, he is convinced that this year’s visit from Santa will be a particularly unpleasant one. Pietari spends most nights sitting-up, waiting for St. Nicholaus to appear so that he can be ready for his punishment.
Meanwhile, all of the mining activity is disrupting the local ecology. When the town’s livelihood is threatened by the wholesale slaughter of the reindeer, Rauno and the other men become desperate. Convinced that the death of the reindeer is due to increased wolf activity. Rauno and the men believe that the animals were scared-up by the nearby blasting at the mining location. Looking for some recompense, the men break the fence, cross the border and head to the facility. Arriving at the site, they find a massive mine shaft and the place deserted. Something has been dug-up and released.
The next morning, when Rauno finds an old man in the wolf trap he set, and Pietari discovers that all of the children in the village have disappeared from their beds, the series of events go from coincidental and mundane to premeditated and sinister.
While the film could read as a conventional horror story, the choice of villain(s) is in no way conventional. Couching the mythology of Father Christmas in a horror film is brilliant and oddly appropriate. The film respects and restores the pagan origins of the holiday while modernizing it. I got a strong Del Toro/Mignola vibe from this film and I don’t feel any sort of praise could be higher than that. The story is a little simplistic but no less enjoyable. It has heart, humor, sacrifice and opportunistic capitalism. I wouldn’t conclude that it is better than the short films but it does nothing to betray them and in fact, serves them quite well.
While it might not be a traditional Christmas film in the realm of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, it is a very fun film, one that I enjoyed thoroughly. 9 out of 10