Movie Review – Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Santa knows a lot of things. Knowing whether you have been naughty or nice isn’t nearly as big a deal as the question that should follow that thought. What will he do about it? In the American “Disneyfied” version of Santa Claus, the naughty kids don’t get gifts. Other cultures around the world have slightly different results.

The movie starts out with an excavating crew attempting to locate something in a mountain on the border of Lapland. Two local boys are watching as they begin their work. Then we jump forward a bit to the local angle on the story. The crew really isn’t that important to the story, just  the catalyst to get it all started. the main focus of the movie is on Pietari and his father Rauno. We don’t know the nature of what happened, but Rauno is a single dad, and not a very good one at that. His interactions with his son are at best rough and uninterested. Rauno’s job is being a butcher for a group of reindeer herders. Not a pretty job. Aimo and Piiparen are the two closest cohorts of Rauno. And Aimo’s son Juuso is the closest “friend” to Pietari (although he likewise is very rough and certainly not what I would call a good friend to our central character of Pietari.

From the start, I loved the imagery in the opening credit sequence. Pietari is looking through old books on folklore about the legend of Santa Claus. Seems their legends are a bit different than the American ones. Santa pretty much was a force for dealing with naughty children. There are images of Santa lashing a boy with branches, holding a boy in a cauldron of water and other not so nice things. I will revisit this imagery a bit later.

The local adults first discover that something is wrong when their “herd” shows up dead. The loss to them is devastating. Culling the herd is how they earn a living and survive through the harsh winter months. Pietari’s dad storms the mountain assuming the dead animals are the fault of animals let in via the workers there. What they find is a work site in disarray. Pietari puts some pieces together and believes that the site was the location where Santa was captured long ago. Some locals had trapped him in a block of ice and buried him under a mountain (so the legend went.)

After the deaths of the reindeer, strange things begin happening. All the portable heaters (radiators they call them) are stolen. Kids are missing (but the parents are not concerned, assuming that they are at a friends.) And then Rauno catches something in one of his wolf pits. This is when the story really starts to pick up.

There are many incredible scenes and moments in this movie. After the capture, there are lots of little things that were cool. After being captured, he is pretty docile. Until he smells the presence of Pietari outside the work shed. Suddenly he begins to come to life.

I find myself not wanting to spoil too much of this movie as there are surprises to be had. And they are ones worth experiencing. There will be a few spoilers below the rating paragraph. You have been warned.

This movie is subtitled and it is one of those that I don’t think they will even try and remake. It fits the world it was filmed in. You can’t make an American version of this. And I hope they never try. This movie very easily earns 4 stars from me. And my kids have declared that they want this to be our holiday tradition from now on. Matter of fact, I watched it 3 times in a row. I wanted to watch it, then right when I finished my daughter came in and wanted to watch it, as we were finishing, my youngest boy came in wanting to watch it. Still have one more child to watch it with when he comes back from his mom’s house.

SPOILER SECTION

There are some things that I wasn’t too keen on in this. Really, the last 5 minutes or so of the film. The resolution after they kill Santa Claus changes everything. They have the “elves” that they have captured and turn them into kid friendly Santas. I felt this part of the movie was a bit forced and didn’t fit.It tied more into the short films that had been made prior. But this movie clearly doesn’t tie in with the shorts. They exist in alternate worlds. The reformed Santas have a major problem. If they are in a situation that tempts them, they revert back (seemingly.) The short #2 made it clear they would revert and go feral. The film doesn’t go there, but the training periods they put them through clearly show them having evil tendencies. In my world, this film fits into a select group of movies that I will stop watching a few minutes before “The End” as I feel it is a more satisfying movie.

I would have liked to see this movie stray more on the dark side. It started on that path early on and then it seemed as though someone had a change of heart. They realized they needed to make it more kid friendly. Less horror and more dark comedy with scary moments.

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