Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

It would be wrong to write that Halloween post and then not do a Christmas post. So here we go!!

Guys, watch this trailer:

I'll give it a moment to sink in.

There's this trend with movies right now, where, when you hear the title or see the trailer, you realize immediately that it's going to be a fantastic film for one of two completely opposite reasons: it's either going to be legitimately epic, well done, thoughtful, and entertaining, or it's going to be so entirely off the handle ridiculous that it will still be thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

This movie...may have been both of those things?

Let's talk about it.

Ok, in case you didn't catch it from the trailer, the film is about finding a monstrous Santa Clause buried deep in a hill somewhere in Finland. This is that Christmastime horror that I was talking about before--already, the story is somewhat unorthodox. It is also a premise that leaves room for so, so much badassery.

The main characters, a group of working class Finnish men living in the Arctic, originally have no vested interest in the whole Santa scheme--they are, as you saw in the trailer, upset because something--or someone--has killed all of their reindeer, which they herd for meat and fur. It is only a group of Americans and one small child who are concerned with the Santa situation.
One of these people tops my list for 'Most Badass Characters of 2011'

It is only appropriate that a Christmas film focus on a child, which is where the main quirk in this film really comes through--even though it is a Christmas movie, it is also an action film, so the typical child main character of the Christmas aspect of the film somehow manages to also become a totally competent action hero.

For the first half of the film, nobody believes the boy, Pietari, that there is an evil Santa buried in the mountain--until, of course, a creature that appears to be Santa is found in one of the illegal wolf-traps set up by Pietari's father. It is only then that people begin to believe the child, and he leads three middle aged Finnish men into battle not only with their American opposition, but with a group of bloodthirsty elves and an enormous frozen goat monster. Throughout the film, the child completes various nearly superhuman feats and gives the men instructions one would only expect from the most experienced of action heroes.
Yeah, secretly a crazy action hero. Obviously.

This is only the very, very basic premise, however--and from that, as well as from the heavy handed one-liners in the trailer, you would have trouble believing that it managed to be a quality film as opposed to a ridiculous and over the top piece of cinema.

The part that doesn't fit into the basic premise, however, is what gives the film it's depth, and it's all very surprising. The strange, epic main plot is a vessel for two thoughtful and complex themes.

Pietari's mother died long before the story we see occurs, and much of the film shows us the struggle his father has being a single father and providing a warm and parental touch to the little family's life. It is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking to see the gruff butcher try to provide for his child not only materially but emotionally, as well, particularly at Christmastime. This sub-plot revolves around the father only having gingerbread cookies for dinner for days on end--in theory, a child's dream, but a meal that ultimately is not practical or nourishing.

 And, as Pietari points out, in his adorable, tear-jerking way, they aren't as good as mother made them. Perhaps, however, this mano-y-mano relationship is what eventually allows Pietari to prove himself to his father, so that he is no longer treated like such a small child.

The other sub plot is only hinted at, because the film is mainly from the point of view of a small child. In a To Kill a Mockingbird-esque way, social and political turmoil is hinted at when the reindeer are killed, and when the men notice something strange happening on the mountain that is eventually revealed as Santa's tomb. The adults are constantly discussing the potential that Russian agents had killed their reindeer, or were working on some secret project on the mountain. Though it is never clearly explained in the film, there is a very complex undertone of the Finnish-Russian political relationship, which, as far as I can tell from the internet, is mainly stressed by border control issues, which are the focus in this film.

So, this Christmas, when you're debating between Santa Clause is Coming to Town and It's a Wonderful Life, make the unorthodox choice--pop in Rare Exports for a surprising, action-packed, touching and thoughtful holiday movie. Think of this movie as your Aunt Jill's pumpkin pie--you were really looking forward to the iconic sugar cookies and the decadent eggnog, but in the end it's the pie you go back for seconds on.

...or, you know, don't think of it that way. Maybe it's best that you don't.

Happy Holidays, everyone!! 

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is owned by CINET and Petri Jokiranta, copyright 2010. 

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