Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE. Starring Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Rauno Juvonen and Tommi Korpela. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander. Rated M (Menacing scenes, violence and coarse language). 78 minutes.

From the idiosyncratic land of the ‘Leningrad Cowboys’, something wicked this way comes in the form of Rare Exports, a clever, gleefully irreverent Christmas fantasy that is best viewed by children no younger than 10 or 11, preferably with parents in tow.

Not many people outside Scandinavia know that Father Christmas comes from Lapland, an area bounded by Russia, Norway and Finland where according to a children’s show first broadcast on Finnish radio in 1925, Father Christmas lives (or lies buried, take your pick) on a mountain range or ‘fell’ called Korvatunturi.

Set the day before Christmas in an isolated reindeer-hunting community, Rare Exports begins with mysterious goings on around the cone-shaped peak of Korvatunturi, where a team of American scientists, funded by a wealthy Nordic businessman, are excavating the mountain, ostensibly to research its seismic activity.

The scientists are secretly observed by two young local boys who have broken into the heavily guarded compound through a hole in the fence. But when a massive explosion uncovers what the excited entrepreneur claims to be a ‘sacred grave’, the two boys escape quickly on their snowmobile, unaware that what has been uncovered in the heart of the mountain is about to radically change their lives - and potentially that of children everywhere.

Korvatuntari translates as ‘Ear Fell’ in Finnish, a name seemingly harmless, but which has sinister connotations, for it is through the cone-shaped ‘earphone’ in which he dwells that Father Christmas ‘listens-in’ on what children all over the world are doing, all year long.

And it is the use to which Father Christmas from time immemorial has put this information, that makes other grumpy old men such as Mr Scrooge and ‘The Grinch’ appear as benign and harmless as Easter bunnies.

Based on a 2003 short film entitled Rare Exports Inc, writer-director Jalmari Helander tells his tale of the capture of the original Father Christmas with delicious tongue-in-cheek seriousness. But there are also some disconcerting, at times  chilling moments.

When 10 year-old Pietari (Onni Tommila) returns home from his mountain adventure, he scours books that fuel his worst suspicions: far from being jolly and benevolent, Father Christmas has dark designs on children, especially those such as himself who have been naughty.

As in all fairy tales, however, Jalmari’s fearsome, skinny Father Christmas and his legion of naked elves are no match for the good child, whose innocent gullibility and heroism brings Christmas cheer to the table of his impoverished father Rouno (played by Onni’s real father, Jorma Tommila), as well as providing a secure income (especially at Christmas time) for his close-knit community.

Destined to become a cult Christmas classic, Rare Exports is well-acted, imaginatively photographed by Mika Orasmaa, and the film is redolent of what makes the best Scandinavian films so original and quirky. Not to everyone’s taste perhaps, but worth watching (perhaps with the children in bed).

Mrs Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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Out 2nd December 2010.