DAY 11: REIMAGINING SANTA CLAUS
There are a few things people from a different culture have to know about the Finnish idea of Father Christmas, to get an understanding of Rare Exports, the Finnish film at the European Film Festival, one of these is, Santa Claus does not reside in the North Pole; he lives in the Korvanturi Mountains in the snowy regions of Finland.
The film opens with two children spying on some archaeological researchers digging into these mountains. The researchers come across a strange material and are then informed the mountain is really a tomb enclosing that most famous Christmas character, Santa Claus. Worried about his dad finding out his mischief, Pietari, reads up on Christmas tradition discovering that Santa is actually a demonic being, that comes bearing whips and cauldrons for misbehaving children. Frustrated by his antics, the ancient locals chased him out and entombed him in ice, which eventually became the Korvanturi Mountains. Yes, the real Santa harms naughty kids; if he fails to come to your doorstep or through your chimney be grateful. As a frightened Pietari later tells his unbelieving friend, “The Coca-Cola Santa is a hoax.”
Now, years later that burial, and barely days to the 25th of December, the real Santa is about to resurrect with help from his elves- old naked men with farming implements- who steal heat producing devices to help hasten the defrosting of Santa in time for his usual Christmas rendezvous. But the English speaking ‘researchers-’ in pure capitalist style- intend to make money off him by selling the original Santa to the public. Both plans clash and in a Macauley Culkin-as-Kevin in Home Alone manner, the kid will have to hatch and execute clever plans to save the day.
At once scary, intense and grimly funny, Rare Exports is a extremely original take on the Christmas horror subgenre. In putting a child at the centre of its plot and reinventing a popular myth, it readily brings to mind that other Scandinavian horror treat, Let the Right One In. Like that film the visual style is as stunning as to suggest a Hollywood blockbuster capturing the snowy landscape in its wide panning and grand sweeps of scenery.
Thematically, one may argue that the film is anti-capitalist and against the commercialization of Christmas. But by depicting Santa as evil, Jalmari Helander just might have added to the debate about the pagan origins of Christmas…
In its concluding act, the film deviates from its somber, dark tone perhaps to reassure families- the first half of the film can be unnerving for children; Rare Exports becomes half clever, selling its legitimate claim to being a greatly original thriller short, but luckily, still it retains enough power on the way to the final scene which holds the meaning of its weird title.