Yes, Piiparinen, there is a Santa Claus! And he wants to slap you right out of your skin.
At the center of the dark Finnish fairy tale Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (which is playing at the Trylon Microcinema in Minneapolis) is a Santa who stands in stark contrast to the jolly old elf who lets children tug on his beard in Miracle on 34th Street and who gets gaily dyspeptic from bottles of Coca-Cola.
This Santa has spent years and years buried inside a mountain, preserved in a ball of ice surrounded by sawdust. And his army of “helpers” are getting ready to thaw him out and let him start crossing names off of his ever-expanding naughty list.
With a sensibility that’s far more Brothers Grimm than Frank Capra, director Jalmari Helander returns the Santa mythology back to its early pagan strains, and ramps up his role as an enforcer for both the naughty (who he presumably kills) and the nice.
Based on a short film, Rare Exports explicitly positions the menacing, “real” Santa against the central figure of fourth-quarter consumerist iconography he has largely become. The parallels are drawn from scene one, in which a shady corporation is shown excavating a mountain in order to rob Santa’s grave.
Too bad he’s still alive inside that giant ball of ice. It isn’t long before the residents of a nearby town find their reindeer slaughtered, their personal possessions stolen and their children missing, replaced by terrifying twine dolls.
And then comes the army of Santa’s elves, a band of floppy old men chasing down the naughty with pickaxes. In the raw.
Helander’s scenario is dark, but not in the same jaded manner as Bad Santa or the cynical Silent Night, Deadly Night series. It’s more like a bemused fable from the Land of the Midnight Sun, one which plays by a different set of rules and feels all the more exhilarating for it.
It may not inspire visions of sugar plums to dance in your head, but it will almost certainly emerge as a cult classic among those of you who curdle every time they hear Andy Williams insist “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while you’re standing twelve-deep in a department story checkout line.