Jan 13, 2011

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Like many others, I consider myself a "late bloomer." To further evidence this notion, I will finally discuss my not-so intimate thoughts with Finland's finest, Rare Exports. You've heard of this film before, most everyone has. Imagine my surprise when unsuspecting family members were asking me if I had seen this film. Knowing their inability to stand anything that isn't English, they must not have known it was a Finnish presentation. The presence of Finnish directors is slowly becoming a bold force in Hollywood. Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin hails from "Suomi" and became a pivotal figure in Hollywood. It's clearly only a matter of time before Rare Exports director Jalmari Helander is given the same treatment. Finnish natives have already conquered the Western musical interests, is cinema the next stop for Nordic assimilation? Back to the treatment of Rare Exports, my excitement for this film peaked some time ago with the unanimous praise that it had been showered with. Reminiscing of the last great Christmas movie, one to provoke the spirits of joy and holiday, I could only think of the masterpiece Jingle All the Way and how eager I was to share that spot.

The plot of Rare Exports is simple - a team of archaeologists unearth Santa Claus but not before vanishing. It's up to a young boy and his father, with a couple of friends, to discover the true nature of Father Christmas and prevent disaster. Rare Exports began in the form of two viral videos. The first addressing the hunting and detaining of the Father Christmases and the second being a safety manual for handling the beasts. Both exhibit clever tongue-in-cheek instances of an offbeat Kris Kringle but the continuity between both film and short predecessors is left splintered and obtrusive. Allow me skip forward a bit and point out some notable differences in the Rare Exports canon. Be warned that spoilers will be discussed following this sentence. Judging from the critical conflict in the motion picture, the archaeologists have just now discovered Santa Claus and unleashed what is thought to be the definitive Santa. Upon discovering that these malnourished bearded gents are actually Elves, the once-nervous boy summons leadership and tiny masculinity within and takes charge, destroying Santa and herding all the elves into an electric pen to be sold as "rare exports." Now that the instances of the film have been hashed over, it's safe to label the short films the sequels to the film, given the situation of rehabilitation. Many discrepancies are to be noted, however. In the film, Santa is never fully revealed, it is encased in a large chunk of ice with horns protruding. The many faces of Santa are researched early on in the film by the boy. He fails to read the text but observes the morbid pictures of he who is thought to be nice. Judge, Jury, and Executioner, rather. In Finland lore, the Santa Claus they used to have were known as "Joulupukki." This tradition involved younger males donning masks made out of the bark of trees with goat horns positioned on them. The idea was to travel door-to-door on the Eve of Christmas and to solicit food & drink. This legend undoubtedly inspired the horns that make up the mental image of this terrifying beast. It's a shame that Christianity and Coca-Cola tainted the once-Pagan country's holiday into the red, jolly visage that makes up the Western Claus. Another inconsistent principal is the short's labeling of the naked creature as Father Christmas, not the elf that the film leads us to believe. Unless Helander changed his ideology mid-course, there should be no reason for these conflicting miscalculations.

Regardless of the lack of continuity, Rare Exports is indeed directed with an impeccable eye. Like most foreign arthouse affairs before it, Rare Exports looks too good to be considered an independent film. The style and attention to snow, Finland's most recognizable facet besides underground metal, is an interesting and fresh aesthetic. Where S. Korea utilizes natural rainy elements to give their cinema a dreamlike discourse, Rare Exports does the same with snow, creating a winter wonderland without the chilly side-effects. So at your leisure, enjoy Rare Exports for what it's worth. Because of the gorgeous composition of the film, Rare Exports has been receiving incredible press, some critics making such a bold statement to refer to this film as the definitive Christmas movie - one to revamp the sub-genre. The ratio of Christmas films is almost disturbing though, as Rare Exports doesn't have to contend to any challenger but still acts as if it came ahead in a close race. Being as Christmas is only celebrated once a year, that's the equivalent of me riffing Leprechaun for being the best St. Patrick's Day film of all time. Do any others even exist? Am I even interested enough to research? Probably not.

So apart from the cinematography and the excellent effects, what does Rare Exports offer you in return for a ticket or video sale? Not much, sadly. Given such a build-up, you'd think that Rare Exports would deliver that yuletide evil that's been hinted in taglines adorning viral promotional posters plastered all over cinema sites. The only impression Rare Exports left with me was a mound of unanswered questions and a wasted aesthetic. The boy's transition from mousy introvert to general hard action hero is floundering and clumsy. Once the boy fires a shot into the air and leads his seniors into battle with an unwavering speech of motivation, my interest quickly dwindled into but an ember. It's such a shame though. Rare Exports is the film whose hype wouldn't deceive me, I refused to allow this much. Almost instantly, this awkward transfer of manhood had preceded the short films, leaving me puzzled. The shorts I mention are the ones in which the boy had reverted into an anti-social mess of female chromosomes, only to revert back into the "manhood" he discovered early on in the Rare Exports timeline. Am I the only one who didn't miss his reinvention? Apart from the wounds suffered at the hands of continuity and Helander's inability to commit oneself to a set idea, Rare Exports isn't a naughty film. It's charming and well-shot, with enough suspense to last you until the credits grace the screen. If you feel that void pulsing in your chest, don't worry. I felt the disappointment thrive as well. No hard feelings though, I'm used to being disappointed on Christmas.



Jaccstev said...

I've only seen the trailer and it looked rather interesting. Thanks for the movie review.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

mAQ, you should never feel disapointed at Christmas, the only things you should be experiencing on Dec 25th are joy, magic and the glorious knowledge that Heathers birthday is only 2 days away.