Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rare Exports: Christmas not just for Kindred Spirits

You better hope you’ve been good this year, especially if you’re spending Christmas in Finland.

Finnish legend claims that Santa Claus lives in the northernmost region of Finland, tucked away in the mountains of Korvatunturi, or Lapland. Where, exactly, is a mystery, but thanks to Finnish Director Jalmari Helander, we’ve got a pretty educated (and, well yes, fictionalized) guess as to how. In his recent Christmas thriller, Rare Exports, he introduces us to this exact small, remote town north of the Arctic Circle filled with infinite snow and mystical reindeers. Here, an American-led team is excavating the local mountain, until they discover mysterious sawdust scraps and a large mass of ice deep within the rock. Tension emerges stemming from moral-based rules that are immediately laid down, but the men are never fully explained the contents deep within the mountain, a secret that’s been buried for many years, and scarier than any of the children (naughty or nice) could imagine. It’s the original Santa Claus. Don’t think for a second that there is a snow-white beard or a red and white coat to go along with the creature that they’re calling by that familiar name. The thing that they’re about to dig up carries images more in line with demons. Think horns, pointy teeth, boiling cauldrons, whips and lashes. Coal should be the least of these kids’ worries.

It’s not a far cry from Finnish folklore of Saint Nicholas that parallels Germanic mythology where Odin was a god of inspired mental activity. He knew when you were angry, enraged, or thinking “naughty” thoughts (clearly the modern song leaves out a few lyrics). He was accompanied by several creatures that kept him informed of what the people in the world were up to… hint hint, like an elf on the shelf. Physically, the similarities get even more oddly comparable. Odin often wore a long beard and a hat. He carried a staff and a cloth sack. Sounding familiar? Both Saint Nick and Odin traveled on flying animals and gave gifts to good children. And although nowadays, the image of Saint Nicholas is kind and warm, his roots suggest more than a creative idea as Helander’s twisted inspiration.

Rare Exports is a distorted fairy tale somewhere between the Coca-Cola Santa and the god of the dead. Somewhere. If you’re ho-hum about watching the same Christmas movie over and over, take your hum bug to a new level and entertain your holiday with the weirdest story you’ll see for a while. It’s creepy and thrilling, outlandish and fantastical, and despite a rushed and cheesy ending, the film stays deep in your thoughts long after your de-trim the tree. The ending seems rushed and ill fitting, but overall special effects make it realistic. Simplicity in plot and execution make it believable and candid. And, as with any good film from The Netherlands, a sense of grotesque and oddity make it something so far removed from our American traditions that it can be anything but ignored. Expect to grip your seat, laugh out loud and raise your eyebrows, but don’t expect to be getting what you want this Christmas.