Movies: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale * * *
(16, General release)
What if Santa was not the rosy-cheeked benefactor beloved of Coca Cola ads but a fearsome avenging spirit who rounds up children who've been bad and subjects them to all sorts of corporal unpleasantness?
This is the premise set by Jalmari Helander's Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, one of the oddest and most eccentric films you'll see in this or any other year. The 16 cert should warn you that, Santa notwithstanding, this is no children's film but a strange mix of fantasy, comedy and outright horror.
Set in the wild and inhospitable Korvatunturi region on the borders of Finland and Russia, Rare Exports begins with a sinister old man supervising a covert dig on top of a snow-capped mountain. Whatever they're looking for it seems very valuable, but the local farmers and hunters are not happy about the strangers' presence, and when a herd of reindeer are savagely attacked, suspicions point to the dig on the hill. It looks like a wolf attack, but a little boy called Pietari (Onni Tommila) knows different.
He has figured out that the workers on the hill will unearth the frozen body of Santa, and Pietari's research has convinced him that this is not a very good idea.
Bleakly humorous and briefly gory, Rare Exports is a kind of extended black joke that reaches moments of high comedy. Its strange tone doesn't always work, but Rare Exports is good fun overall and saves its best joke for last.