Published Dec 16, 2010With a glossy, commercial clarity saturated by an abundance of red throughout its brief runtime, Finnish first-time feature director Jalmari Helander expands on his short film series, Rare Exports Inc., with this mythological deconstruction of the modern notion of Santa Claus. It's substantially more interesting in premise than in actuality or execution, despite some unique imagery and moralistic satire, ultimately building up to a punch line that lacks any actual punch.
Like most Christmas parables, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale features a socially awkward child whose external perspective on a given situation grants him insight not available to those less defensibly discerning. It is he who establishes that corporate mining atop a local mountain is related to the economically devastating slaughter of the annual reindeer crop, attributing a sinister and morally rigid Santa Claus to the carnage, given that he is now unearthed from a frozen slumber.
Also similar to films in the genre, wherein wide-eyed children try to imbue their cynical parents with the magical spirit of Christmas, this child's father won't believe the story, being far too decimated psychologically with worries of money to extend much effort beyond indifferent disbelief. It is this parental distance from the actuality of childhood parables and Brothers Grimm nastiness that provides any sort of social or cultural context.
Since this setup is intentionally familiar, one would assume that some sort of satire, or dark spin, would ameliorate intent, seeing as this is ostensibly a monster movie about commercial fantasies. But Helander merely presents the archetypes and leaves them to do very little while the audience waits for the constant build up to result in something worthwhile or exciting.
Unfortunately, aside from multiple extended sequences of frontally nude senior citizens running around in the snow – occasionally in slow motion, for added big screen effect – very little happens. Even the proposed monster isn't revealed, which is truly disappointing considering that all of the action and violence leading up to this happens off screen.
While this take on a common mythology has the potential to be a dark and bizarre alternative for the holiday season, it's surprising lack of filmmaking originality and tonally awkward presentation leave quite a bit to be desired. (Oscilloscope)