Sunday, December 25, 2011

DVD Review: RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

LABEL: Icon Home Entertainment
REGION: 2 PAL Format
DURATION: 88 mins
VIDEO: 16:9 Widescreen (2.40:1)
AUDIO: Dolby Digital Finnish 5.1 with optional English Subtitles
DIRECTOR: Jalmari Helander
CAST: Per Christian Ellefsen, Peter Jakobi, Tommi Korpela, Jorma Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings, Onni Tommila, Risto Salmi, Rauno Juvonen
TAGLINE: This Christmas Everyone Will Believe in Santa

SYNOPSIS:
"In the depths of Lapland’s Korvatunturi Mountains, 486 metres deep, lies the closest guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up.You better watch out, you better not cry, better not shout, I’m telling you why... Based on the award winning shorts of director Jalmari Helander that have already acquired a cult reputation in the internet, Santa Claus is coming to town in a never-before-seen Christmas fantasy thriller. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good... This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus."

Now this was a pleasant surprise and a nice diversion from the glut of macabre and horrific films I've been spreeing thru as of late, this was a film I could actually sit down and watch with my three young children which is pretty rare with the type of screeners that usually end up in my mailbox. I can't really screen IN A GLASS CAGE (1987) for 'em without surely inflicting lifelong damage upon their psyche now can I? I usually wait until they're asleep before I pop in whatever video nasty peaks my interest any day of the week so it was a rare treat indeed to gather the squirts around the tube just after school for some family fun.   

RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010) is a dark fantasy Christmas tale that takes place in the small rural Finnish village where an American mining company has secretly unearthed a mysterious "sacred grave" on the top of Korvatunturi Mountain overlooking the village. The excavation has been wrought with explosions which have caught the attention of a young imaginative boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) in the shadow of the mountain with his strict, plain-spoken father Rauno (Jorma Tommila). Rauno, a butcher by trade, along with Piparinen (Rauno Juvonen) and Aimo (Tommy Korpela) are reindeer herders whose lively hood depends on the annual slaughtering of the deer and when the herd are killed off by what would appear to have been wolves Rauno and the others head for the Korvatuntari mining site to voice their grievances,  blaming the explosions at the site for driving Russian wolves across the Russian border and into their territory. Once they arrive at the site it appears to have been abandoned with some haste by the miners leaving an ominous and cavernous hole in the ground, something rather large has been unearthed but little do they realize it's something that's been kept a secret for centuries and it's extrication could very well threaten Christmas as we know it.

Young Pietari mind is set afire by the possibilities of what could have been buried within the mountainside and when he also finds strange tracks in the snow outside his bedroom window he becomes obsessed with old legends of an evil Santa, a death-bringer more apt to boil children alive than stuff their stocking with presents. Becoming increasingly alarmed by the idea he sets a trap for Santa should he decide to come down the chimney, the deterrent nearly ends in his father's death. The relationship with his father is quietly difficult, it's pretty obvious the young boy craves his father's attention but for his father, a recent widow, the emotional struggles of raising his son alone ways heavy upon him and his grief often times emerges in short, terse interactions with the boy. The relationship isn't dwelt on a great deal but it's there plainly enough.

Soon enough things start to take a bizarre turn as creepy elderly men appear around the village, children go missing, potato sacks are stolen as are other  heat producing appliances all leading up to a wonderfully odd finale that maybe wraps up a bit too quick. The story is whimsical and fantastical but also quite dark, more so than any American PG-13 would dare go with creepy, nude elderly men with a pedophiles sixth sense for sniffing out children,  the cover-up of a murder, a near dismemberment, gun toting children and a child sacrificing himself in a heroic act, it's weird shit but awesome just the same.

At only eighty-eight minutes the film definitely takes some storytelling shortcuts more than it's fair share with stortytelling and character development, much of which I would have of liked to seen fleshed out, particularly the final coda of the film which is inspired lunacy but felt way too abbreviated for me. Something else that irked me was a lack of revelation, were taunted with a big ticket set piece but it never really comes to fruition and I was really dying for it but it just never emerged to the degree that I wanted to see it - the film maintained it's mystery a bit too much for me in that respect, not enough ruin the film but just enough to be bothersome.

The film's absurdly weird premise is brought to life with some attractive winter bound scenery that's pitch perfect for the story at hand, the gorgeous visuals are pretty fantastic from start to finish and really draw you in with candy colored cinematography. It's just a very sharp looking film that brought to mind the early 90's films of the French filmmakers Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro who wowed me with their own dark fairy tales, DELICATESSEN (1991) and CITY OF THE LOST CHILDREN (1995).

VERDICT: There are precious few Christmas tales that have made their way into my yearly rotation of Christmas classics in the past decade, the few that have earned their positions are BAD SANTA (2003), THE ICE HARVEST (2005) and SANTA'S SLAY (2005). I'm quite happy to have comes across this dark, Christmas fairy-tale, it's  sure to be a Christmas cult classic for years to come. It's not perfect but it's pretty awesome and I give it a high recommend for fans of dark fantasy like MILLIONS (2004), CORALINE (2009) and CITY OF THE LOST CHILDREN (1995). 3.5 outta 5

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