Thursday, December 2, 2010

RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE is a knockout. But don't bring little kids.

How do you say thank you in Finnish? That's what I'd like to communicate to writer/director Jalmari Helander because this award-winning Finn has given us reprobate Scrooges a whole new -- and delightful -- way to say "Humbug!"  It's called RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE, and it is a hoot and a half. And also creepy, scary, exciting, clever and -- oh, hell, bring out every adjective on your list.  Then add a few more.

Helander, shown at right, evidently made a short on this same subject some time back and was encouraged to go for full-length. Smart move, for there's not a wasted minute among the 80 juicy ones that comprise the film. Beginning with a prologue that approximates a very smart thriller -- full of mystery, suspense and what's-going-on-here? -- we're in the mountainous wilds of Finland, with our sweet little hero (Onni Tommilabelow, right) as he counts down the days until Christmas, while real-life Dad (Jorma Tommillabelow, left) guts a slaughtered pig in the front yard. (As my headline advises, don't bring young kids.) Something is afoot on top of the mountain behind their snow-capped home, and father, son and friends soon find themselves involved in a plot to bring back the real.... Ah, but why spoil things?

Suffice it to say that we are soon knee-deep in gooey reindeer and running from a pack of grizzled and ravenous -- naked, too: full-frontal! -- very large and elderly elves (It's a Wonderful Elf this film is not), and we soon learn, in perhaps the funniest moment in the movie, the answer to a question all kids eventually ask: How can Santa Claus be "everywhere at once." The writer/director knows his various genres damned well -- thriller, horror, adventure, Christmas treat -- and he makes the most of each of them, while spreading an original layer of black humor over it all.

From where does Helander's weird humor come? The cold climate, perhaps, or the lack of much daylight? (Clearly, TrustMovies has never journeyed to Finland). Where this filmmaker takes us and what his characters must accomplish are brilliantly black and funny. As good and rousing as is the thrilling climax, it's the delightful denouement that seals the deal. This smart film is a keeper, one that shows up something like The Human Centipede for the shoddy piece of trash it is. I suspect our plucky young filmmaker may have even created a new genre. Call it Holiday Noir.

Rare Exports, from Oscilloscope Laboratories, makes its New York debut this Friday at the IFC Center, with further openings across the entire country -- in some 25 cities, major and minor -- throughout all December. (Click here to see the entire roster of cities, dates and theaters.)  But what the hell, this movie will still be terrific, maybe even better, during those dogs days of summer.

Note: The IFC Center is showing a special 
video introduction from director Jalmari Helander 
this Friday and Saturday at the 8:25pm shows!

2 comments:

Father Christmas said...

Saw this the other night at a preview screening. I think you hit the nail on the head. Really enjoyable movie that works in many different ways. Destined to put some variety in the christmas cannon.

James van Maanen, said...

Why, thanks, Dad! Glad you enjoyed this little movie. And you're right: That yearly Christmas cannon we're subjected to can certainly use more variety.