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An Alternative Santa Story PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Tuesday, 29 November 2011 01:40

Pietari in Rare Exports

I just love finding weird and quirky films that far surpass one's expectations. Tonight I found (thanks to LoveFilm who have it on their film streaming service on the PS3) a perfect example of this in the Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale that was first released for Christmas 2010. If you are feeling a little jaded at hackneyed and treacly Christmas films, then can I suggest a look at Jalmari Helander's first feature film. It is extraordinary and quite wonderful, but definitely not in an "A Wonderful Life" kinda way! [There's more...]

The film is a parody of films like The Thing and all your typical wild men running around with axes in West Virginia films. But it is played and directed with the necessary seriousness as an isolated community in Finland finds the ancient stories from their past of a terrible creature that stole their children are more true than they could have imagined - the original Santa Claus. An American team is excavating a strange looking mountain and find a body entombed in ice... which begins to thaw (with the assistance of very scary looking elves who take charge of their master and steal every radiator, oven and hairdryer in the village to assist the process).

In a total reversal of the usual horror genres where young women are most often depicted as mere tokens, in this film, as in John Carpenter's The Thing, there are no females at all. The action revolves around a young son, Pietari (pictured) and his father, and their neighbours. The first they realise something very bad has been unleashed is the devastation of the communal reindeer herd, then the children of the village are found to all be missing with the exception of Pietari, who comments, "This is not the Coca-Cola Santa."

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[Be warned, there be Spoilers ahead!]

In a moment of tremendous self-sacrifice and in a kind of reverse Pied Piper moment, Pietari rescues all the children who are found amongst all those radiators, ovens and hairdryers at the foot of the thawing block of ice containing Santa. Still in their sacks, the children are gathered into a net and airlifted by helicopter out of the warehouse with Pietari directing the pilot to draw the two hundred odd naked bearded elves out into the hills where he lets himself down into a reindeer herding pen to draw the elves away from their master. Just at the moment depicted in the picture above when Pietari closes his eyes (having told the pilot to let his father know what he had done) as the elves come ever closer, pick-axes in hand, there is a massive explosion from the village where the block of ice containing the horned Santa has been exploded into pieces by Pietari's father, with the quip "Now you know how Santa can be in a zillion places at once!" The elves are released from their bondage to their master, and stand purposeless, as the dawn breaks.

The pay-off to all the action is the final joke when we see this new herd of elves being trained as domesticated "Santas", practising with a doll on their laps, smiling and stroking, and then handing over a gift-wrapped present. The final scene shows a warehouse filled with rare export boxes of Santas ready to be shipped out across the world.

The film while a little slow to build the initial tension, motors along beautifully after the first 15 minutes or so, playing with all the expected norms of the horror/adventure genre, with a dose of Spielberg-like wonder in the vulnerability of the young lead.

This is an alternative Santa story that is definitely not for kids, and yet is totally captivating in its dark playfulness.

The film is a reminder too that the extraordinary power we routinely apply to "Santa" for our wee ones (judging who is good and bad, being omnipresent (in all places) and omniscient (knowing everything), etc.), whether we just acquiesce to society's Christmas story or actively promote it, cannot be divorced from an awesome terror in all this power and authority in the hands of a single character.

What does it say, I wonder, that at the exact time of year we celebrate the birth of the One who becomes the real justice-bringer, who knows God's ways and is able to share them with us, and who brought the gift of God's love and grace to the world, that we spend more time and money celebrating Santa. Harmless fun? Or a distraction from the awesomeness of what Christmas is really about?

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