Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

This is a Christmas film like none you have ever seen before.

Onni Tommila is Pietari, a young boy growing up in remote northern Finland where winter means scarcely more than an hour's sunlight per day. Times haven't changed much here with the passage of centuries; the people in his fragile settlement still depend on the reindeer hunt. There are wolves abroad, the adults struggle under a burden of debt, and life is hard. But now something new has come to brooding Korvatunturi Mountain. Pietari and his older friend Juuso, sneaking up there to watch, see strangers engaged in excavating a massive crater. What are they looking for? What might it mean for the struggling villagers?

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Back in his room, Pietari pores over old books showing the original Finnish Santa Claus, a horned monster who, we are told, beats children until not even their skeletons remain. As Christmas draws near and Pietari's widowed father deals with a series of increasingly peculiar events, the boy begins to wonder what might happen if Santa found out who's naughty and nice.

This is a story about the true meaning of Christmas, old-style. Its 15 certificate is no accident, though unfortunate, as there's little here that's really inappropriate for younger viewers - it's just that it's so damn scary. There's a creepiness here from the outset and no amount of dark humour can alleviate it; as the tension escalates grown adults will also find themselves hiding behind the seats. It successfully captures the sense of something otherworldly, mixing snowflakes and fairy lights with something that might have been written by Dennis Wheatley or HP Lovecraft. Yet despite this, it is at its core a classic children's adventure.

Beautifully shot, Rare Exports also features a host of perfectly judged performances. Onni Tommila has to be one of the cutest kids ever to grace the silver screen, yet he is not remotely mawkish, and his utterly naturalistic responses to events are a large part of what makes the film so gripping. Jorma Tommila, as his father Rauno, is wonderful, letting just the right amount of tenderness show through an exterior personality that is all about survival. This is a place where the virtues of Hollywood child heroes make little sense. Redemption comes not through innocence or declarations of love, but through opportunism and a willingness to face up to harsh responsibilities. As Rauno must learn to extend his imaginative horizons, Pietari must learn to be strong. This is a place where a child cannot safely wander on his own until he has learned to use a rifle. It is unforgiving, just like the thing that comes out of Korvatunturi Mountain.

This is not a film to watch alone, no matter how old you are. Especially not on Christmas Eve.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2010
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A mysterious excavation awakens something sinister in the vicinity of an isolated northern Finnish settlement.
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Director: Jalmari Helander

Writer: Jalmari Helander, Juuso Helander

Starring: Onni Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorma Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings, Risto Salmi, Peeter Jakobi, Ilmari Järvenpää, Rauno Juvonen

Year: 2010

Runtime: 77 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Finland, Norway, France, Sweden

Festivals:

London 2010

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If you like this, try:

Coraline
Pan's Labyrinth
The Thing