Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Dir: Jalmari Helander
Star: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Jonathan Hutchings

In a remote, northern part of Finland, at the Russian border, a drilling team is boring into a gigantic burial mound, as local kid Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his pal watch. Eventually, the team uncover... something. Shortly thereafter, the local reindeer hunters, including Pietari's Dad, Rauno (the other Tommila - I'm guessing they're actually father and son, but that's a guess). are severely miffed to discover their herd have been slaughtered. Initially, the culprits are assumed to be wolves, but that's only the precursor to a series of strange, clearly not wolf-related incidents, such as the vanishing of only naughty children, or the theft of every radiator, cooker and warming device in the town. Then Rauno's wolf-trap is triggered: only it's not by a wolf, but apparently an old, naked man with a long beard. If this is Santa, it's not quite the jolly version modern tradition would have you believe: and it it isn't, what exactly was entombed in the burial mound?

I didn't enjoy this as much as I hoped. It spent too long meandering around on the outside of things, before getting to the meat of the matter - while it did, the main amusement was watching Chris be aghast at the living conditions of reindeer herders ("Do they really live like that? Why?"). And when the Big Bad finally arrives, it's disposed off far too easily, without the audience ever getting to see it, which is like a Godzilla film that focuses on the reconstruction efforts. And lastly, yhid (admittedly understandably) assumes an awareness of Finnish Christmas traditions. While there are some similarities, e.g. the whole naughty vs. nice thing, a lot is left unexplained, like the figures which replace the missing kids. I do like the basic concept, of the "Coca Cola Santa", as they refer to it, being a sanitized version of a much nastier figure, and there are some drolly dead-pan moments, which appear typically Finnish (though given my knowledge is mostly the works of Aki Kaurismaki, it may or may not be broadly accurate). But it's more slightly amusing than the wholesale slaughter of a sacred Claus I was expecting.

[December 2012]

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