Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (review)

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And here we have the second film this year — after the Facebook-romance documentary Catfish — for which explaining what the title refers to would be an unforgiveable spoiler. But there’s much to say about this wonderfully bizarre Finnish movie that won’t spoil it: it’s so deliciously weird, in fact, that it would be tough to convey how perfectly perverse it is. You simply need to see it to believe that anyone would conceive of such an outlandishly demented Christmas fantasy.

Inspired by the notion from Finnish pagan folklore that the being we know as Santa Claus today was, in fact, a horrific scourge of a creature in times of old, this is the story of how Santa is unearthed at an archaeological dig at the Finnish-Russian border — having been imprisoned in a subterranean ice prison by the medieval Finns weary of his monstrous ways — and becomes a valuable pawn between the local Finnish reindeer hunters whose food source has been destroyed by the dig and the Russian industrialist behind the operation. Surely someone will pay big bucks for the for-real Santa Claus, right?

Writer-director Jalmari Helander gets all the diverse Frankensteinian bits working together smoothly: this is part cultural battle between big business and small enterprise, part horror movie — this Santa is not one upon whose lap you’d want to sit; he might sink his fangs into your jugular — and part dry, dry comedy. In playing with the creepy roots of the story of the magical being whom we today think of as kindly even as he breaks-and-enters at his leisure and uses his omniscience to punish or reward you, Rare Exports finds the grim awfulness in the supposedly pleasant fantasy… and does so with equal measures of wit and chills.

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