Director: Jalmari Helander
Screenplay: Jalmari Helander, Juuso Helander, Petri Jokiranta & Sami Parkkinen
Starring: Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi, Onni Tommila
Producers: Agnès B, Anna Björk, François-Xavier Frantz, Petri Jokiranta & Knut Skoglund
Country: Finland, Norway, France, Sweden
Running Time: 80 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Released last Christmas in cinemas, Finnish writer/director Jalmari Helander’s highly entertaining anti-Christmas film Rare Exports is finally getting a home release (I guess they were waiting till closer to the season), so I thought I’d check it out again and do a full review.
A group of miners in the Korvatunturi mountains in Lapland are given instructions from an unusual man to bury deep into the earth to unlock a buried secret. He gives his workers strict instructions to be “good for goodness sake”, refraining from swearing, smoking etc. Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his friend sneak a peek at this excavation and the young boy knows exactly what is being unearthed… jolly old Saint Nick himself. Only Pietari doesn’t believe in the sugar-coated Coca-Cola sponsored Santa that we know and love. He’s well versed in the original tales of the evil demon Father Christmas who tortured and killed children who didn’t behave, so prepares himself for the worse. As Christmas Eve arrives (when the Finns do most of their Christmas celebrations), Pietari’s father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) finds his illegal wolf-trap has captured a strange, frail, naked old man. Could this frightening looking discovery be the man in red himself?
Rare Exports is an odd beast. Clearly much darker than most Christmas movies and containing some fairly disturbing scenes (mainly in Rauno’s slaughterhouse) as well as plenty of swearing (the English subtitles censor many of these, but I’m well versed in Finnish swearwords!) this isn’t a film for children. However, by focusing largely on the young Pietari and giving off a definite Amblin vibe, the film won’t settle well with a lot of adults who are after something with a bit more bite. If you’re willing to let it in though, Rare Exports is a wonderfully original and fun spin on the Christmas formula.
Personally, it’s the unusual tone that I like best about the film. Its very Finnish message of learning to ‘man up’ makes a welcome change to the sappy crap that most Christmas movies slap in our faces. There are no women in the film and the narrative arc concerns Pietari’s coming of age, learning to stop being afraid of things and take control over his pushy friend and over-protective father. That’s not to say the film is all testosterone and manliness though. A lot of humour is derived from the simple attitudes of Rauno and his friends and there are also some surprisingly strong family-drama elements in there too. Pietari’s mother has died (recently it’s assumed) and there are a couple of genuinely touching scenes between him and his father. These are very well handled with admirable restraint – again, miles ahead of its Hollywood counterparts.
It’s a very short film (80 mins, but feels shorter), which means there’s no time to lose interest in the potentially gimmicky story. The film still manages to build its sense of mystery and tension very nicely though, not rushing into anything. Unfortunately, this does bring me to one of my few problems with the film though. Because the build-up is so well done, it means the big finale is a bit of a letdown. There’s a great twist in the final quarter and after this, just as the film is looking to hit its higher gears, the film ties itself up a little too quickly and easily. Part of this includes a fairly naff-looking CGI sequence that jars against the rest of the film, which other than this generally avoids such effects and looks great for a small foreign language release. That said, a very final twist (which is spoiled by the short films this was based on) turns things back on track and on a whole the film is still strong enough to stop the end from disappointing too much.
Overall, Rare Exports is a highly recommended antidote to the usual tripe we are served in the festive season and is short and enjoyable enough to warrant repeated viewings year after year.
Rare Exports is released on DVD & Blu-Ray by Icon Home Entertainment on 7th November. I watched the DVD version. My screener didn’t have any special features or even menus, so I’m not sure about the retail version. I haven’t seen any mention of special features so I think it’s a bare-bones release. It’s a great little film though, so if you see it at a good price I’d still pick it up.