Monday, March 12, 2012

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Title: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Director: Jalmari Helander                    

Cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Rauno Juvonen


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is the kind of film that takes something that many hold sacred and holy and completely profanes it. It’s the kind of film that thrives on its weirdness which of course will probably result in an interesting watch for anyone out there looking for a film with an unusual vibe to it. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a Finnish film that criticizes Christmas for all its fakeness and all its lies. I’ve always though that Christmas is simply a way to get us to start believing in all the rest of the lies that we’re going to be told through out our lives. Think about it, society gets kids to believe in a fat old man who’s got magical powers and he watches over you making sure you are being good through out the whole year? What’s next? Another magical man up in heaven who can make everything alright, who’s also watching over me making sure I don’t sin? Sure, I bought into the first lie, why not the next? Sad part about Christmas is that it’s aimed at capturing kids’ imaginations from a very young age; the old idea of “getting them while they’re young”, because if you get someone believing in something starting at a very young age, chances are they’ll believe that for the rest of their lives;  funny how that can be applied to religion and the idea of an all knowing all watchful God as well.

So it’s no surprise that Rare Exports tells it’s story from the point of view of a kid who still believes in Santa Claus. He’s this kind of kid who’s really into Christmas; he wears his Christmas sweater, he has his little calendar with which he counts down the days till Christmas. He definitely believes that Santa is coming to town. But same way it happened to many of us, the ideas and conceptions he had of Santa Claus are shot down when his friend lets him in on the whole lie about Father Christmas. That can be a cold day, when you first discover that Santa isn't real. It’s the day you realize you’ve been had all these years; and by your parents no less! I’m sure many of you out there know that the image of Santa Claus as we know him today was popularized by many a marketing campaign funded by COCA COLA during the 1930’s and onward? The idea of an old man who gave gifts to kids has been passed on from civilization to civilization, it's been around for a while now, but that image of the fat man dressed in white and red has been used and commercialized to death by the guys at Coca Cola. It all started with a painter called Haddon Hubbard Sundblom, who was paid by Coca Cola to create a warm, human, friendly image of Santa Claus and so, the jolly, white bearded fat man dressed in red and white garments was born.

It's all part of the show

According to The Coca Cola Company Sundblom was inspired by Clement Clark Moore’s descriptions of Saint Nick in his poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ to do these paintings. So powerful is this image and so iconic, that Coca Cola still uses these paintings in their modern Christmas advertisements; in fact, they used Sundblom’s paintings again for last years ad campaigns. If I remember correctly, the campaign had Santa Claus (looking the way Sundblom’s paintings depicted him) as this God like being who controls the world and the way our lives go. In these ads, Planet earth was depicted as a snow globe which Mr. Claus moves around so humans end up together on Christmas Eve so they can drink their Coca Cola together. The song that appears in the commercial was a hit in radio waves during Christmas season and I’m sure a lot of Coca Cola was sold.

But this whole thing about Coca Cola using Santa Claus to sell their soft drinks is actually a good way of showing all of us what Christmas is really all about: selling shit to us, or rather, programming us to go buy stuff. Black Sunday, the day when humans turn into the zombies George Romero talked about in Dawn of the Dead (1979) is one of the darkest days humanity has ever known. I mean, every year, on this day, people trample over other people to buy things! Humans have died trampled on by other humans who want to buy their new HD television set! This is the best example of how the masses can be programmed to buy; I find this so nauseating, and as a human, it’s kind of embarrassing to be a part of a race of beings capable of doing something like that. I’ve never participated in it, but to me, it a truly low point in human history. So when a film that tries to show us this ugly side of Christmas, in a very symbolic way, I appreciate it. In Rare Exports, we meet little Pietari, a kid who loves Christmas but becomes disenchanted with it once he learns it’s all a farce.

This film depicts Santa as an infernal creature with giant horns who feeds on little children, which of course is referencing what the media targets Christmas at: children and the fact that by teaching them about Santa, your basically feeding them to the infernal monster known as consumerism. The kids are the ones who are being lied to from the very beginning of their lives; and don’t give me this excuse about wanting to give the kids this “beautiful illusion”, truth is you’re teaching your kids to lie. Films like Rare Exports do a hell of a lot to break that illusion, which is why an anti-Christmas film like this one will never get wide distribution in theaters and make it big in the United States. Every single film that attacks Christmas has gotten lambasted by critics, and producers and studios will simply not back films like these up, they wont invest the money to promote films like these. Same thing happened to films like David Steiman’s Santa’s Slay (2005) a pretty funny and amusing film that has Santa going around killing people in all sorts of amusing ways with Christmas ornaments cause get this: Santa was a demon before he was Santa and giving toys and happiness is his way of paying off a bet he made with an angel in the past! Same thing happened to Silent Night Deadly Night (1984), a decent enough slasher that was taken off theaters in less then two weeks because parents sent letters to the studio expressing their disgust with the fact that the killer in the film is dressed up as Santa Claus. What it all boils down to is this: society doesn’t like it when you mess with their cash cow. They don’t want the symbol of Santa tarnished, and so films like Rare Exports and many others have suffered the very same fate: they disappear into dvd obscurity and are seen by those who search for them. But does this mean they are bad films?

Hell no. I mean, Rare Exports is extremely far from being bad. In fact, it’s a very well constructed film. The mood it sets from the very beginning is extremely eerie, and it keeps it going all the way to the end. I like the fact that it takes place all the way out in the middle of nowhere, the isolation is not unlike the one felt in Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), in fact, same as The Thing, there’s no women anywhere to be seen on this film. It’s all about a bunch of bearded dudes dealing with a monster in the middle of a snowy nowhere. There’s this scene where they capture this naked old man whom they believe is Santa Claus that is extremely freaking eerie! Something about the music reminded me of the score for The Goonies (1985), which doesn’t surprise me since same as The Goonies, the main character in the film is a kid. It’s the kid who’s the star of the show; it’s the kid who saves the day! And I love that, kids take charge and decide to send Santa Claus to kingdom come. Basically, this film is a big screw you to Christmas! Yeah!

This film comes to us from Finnish director Jalmari Helander, this surprisingly enough was his first feature film! I thought it was an extremely well achieved film for a first timer. Helander had been playing around with the ideas presented in Rare Exports in two short films he’d made previously. The first one was called Rare Exports Inc. (2003) in which they showed these hunters going into the forest to hunt and capture Father Christmases as if Father Christmases lived in the wild, like animals, the whole thing is pretty funny and is presented as if it was a documentary shot for Animal Planet or something. In the short they capture a rabid, bearded, naked fat man (a wild Father Christmas) and  then they train it to become the Santa Claus’s you see in the malls putting children on their laps, this was a hilarious short that was viewed by many people that year. The sequel was inevitable and so a sequel short was produced called The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions 2005 (2005) which was a short film that showed you how to behave if you ever came into close proximity of a wild Father Christmas; #1 don’t be naughty or you’ll get your head chomped off! By the way, I urge any of you out there to check out these fine short films before seeing the actual movie, they’ll get you in the right mindset to enjoy the film.  Rare Exports was a fun flick, with an eerie vibe and a mordant sense of humor that I really enjoyed. Highly recommend this fun anti-Christmas flick!

Rating: 4 out of 5

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