Tuesday, 21 September 2010

LFF 2010 Review : Rare Exports : A Christmas Tale

This Finnish children’s/adventure/Christmas/fantasy-horror/black comedy is a rare export indeed. Bringing to mind early Spielberg and the more subversive tone of Joe Dante, it sets out to tell us the story of the real Santa Claus. Not the jolly fat bloke as imagined by the Coca-Cola Company, but the feral horned beast of Scandinavian legend who would eat naughty children and go door-to-door demanding presents for himself.

A team of American scientists discover the burial place of the original Santa Claus, deep under the Korvatuntari mountains of northern Finland. Young Pietari and his pal have been breaking through the wire fence surrounding the dig to watch the excavations, unaware of what’s been uncovered. It’s only when the livelihood of the community is threatened by the slaughter of hundreds of reindeer, that Pietari begins to uncover the truth of Santa’s more ominous nature. When his father, owner of a reindeer slaughterhouse, traps an old man with a long white beard in an illegal wolf trap, it’s not long before the stranger’s identity is revealed and a ransom plan is hatched, a literal take on the commercialisation of Christmas.

Director Jalmari Helander makes great use of his setting, a frozen landscape lit-up with bright splashes of festive colour at odds with the daily life of the slaughterhouse next to which the characters live. We’re watching this through the eyes of the impish Pietari, so the low camera and opportunity for a child to ultimately become the unlikely hero recalls such fondly remembered (for me anyway) 80s kid’s classics as The Monster Squad (1987), Flight Of The Navigator (1986) and Explorers (1985).

The tone does veer sometimes though. At one point I thought we were heading for full on horror, like Robert Zemeckis’ episode of Tales From The Crypt, And All Through The House (1989), featuring a rampaging homicidal Santa Claus. A couple of unnecessary ‘fucks’ in the dialogue and a bunch of naked old men running through the snow surely aren’t going to help with certification either. Breathing the same air as the Grimm Brothers, it’s refreshing to find filmmakers that think kids can handle this kind of mild fantasy horror, whether they’re up for handling subtitles is another matter, but I hope the BBFC gets on side with this one. I remember how much Gremlins (1984) scared me when I was a kid, not in a bad ‘gave me nightmares’ way, but enough to make me play it endlessly every Christmas. It certainly beat the hell out of Home Alone (1990).

Rare Exports deserves to do well, other than Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), there’s not much for kids that steers away from maudlin festive sentimentality. I wish the filmmakers had a little more money to really go for broke in the final act, and that when the inevitable remake comes, Hollywood has the sense and respect to give it to Helander.

Rare Exports : A Christmas Tale - 2010 - Finland - 77 mins - Dir : Jalmari Helander

Rare Exports : A Christmas Tale is screening at the London Film Festival on October 23rd & 26th, tickets are available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff

It goes on general release on December 3rd

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