RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE. 2010, Finland. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander. Starring Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Rauno Juvonen, Peeter Jakobi. CINEMA: Returning to my car last week, after some Christmas shopping, I found a bright red flyer stuffed under my windshield wiper. I assumed it was another advertisement and nearly tossed it without even looking. As it turns out, the flyer was from a local church. POPCORN: Inviting you to their potluck? CINEMA: No, it was from someone calling himself Pastor Bob, explaining the origin of Santa. POPCORN: Born of a virgin, straight outta the North Pole? CINEMA: Not according to Pastor Bob. By his account, there was an ancient pagan ritual which took place in Britain on the night of December 21st, the Winter Solstice. It was called the Ritual of the Stag. In a darkened forest, a high priest with long white hair and a beard would kill a male deer in sacrifice to the gods. POPCORN: A little Christopher Lee for the holidays. Pretty sure you already told me all about that. CINEMA: In Pastor Bob’s version, the deer was skinned and its furry hide turned inside-out, with the raw, blood-soaked inner flesh serving as a bright red coat. The antlers were left intact on the hide, serving as a mask and headpiece for the final part of the ritual. A human being, preferably a virgin, was brought before the priest, who would then use the antlers to gore the sacrifice to death. This would be followed by an orgy that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. POPCORN: Dude, that sounds . . . awesome. CINEMA: There were big letters at the top of the flyer, proclaiming Christmas to be a “silent night, bloody night.” It went on to explain that this white-haired priest in the bloody robe and the deer’s head were Santa and Rudolph. It further explained that “Santa” is merely “Satan” misspelled, and that the people of America have been duped by the Father of Lies. POPCORN: Donald Trump? CINEMA: Not in this case. The churches of America got together in 1933 and accepted the Santa Claus story, about an immortal being with a magical sled and the ability to know which children were good and which were bad. According to Pastor Bob, this was the Devil attempting to confuse those who were devout (but apparently brain-dead) into worshipping the wrong individual. Obviously, Pastor Bob would like everyone to reject the Santa mythology and join his church. POPCORN: Potluck, man. I told you. What dish are you bringing? CINEMA: His argument was that presenting the Santa lie to our children now makes them question the truth of everything we might tell them later. In essence, we start training them early to be good little liars and disbelieve everything they are taught. POPCORN: Bob’s not a total dumb-ass. CINEMA: No, he’s not. He might be a bit over the top, and in serious need of some decaf, but his logic here is sound. At least until he gets to all of that business about Satan. He’s also got a great flair for horror, if he ever decides that a career change is in order. POPCORN: You hear ’bout that thing with the hooker? CINEMA: Pastor Bob had a hooker? POPCORN: No, man. The other red suit. CINEMA: You mean . . . Saint Nicholas? POPCORN: Yeah, him. Dude was, like, a priest in the Middle East or something – CINEMA: He was a fourth century bishop in Turkey, using his vast fortune to help the poor and the needy – POPCORN: Yeah, yeah, that’s it. So there was this chick. She was Ramen-noodle poor, getting ready to hit the corner for some extra cash. Then ol’ Nick strolls past her house and tosses a gold coin in her window. I think he was just trying to be first in line. But the coin, it drops in a sock that’s hanging by the fireplace to dry. Girl grabs that coin and gets outta the business before she even starts. But she’s got a big mouth, tells everybody about it – CINEMA: And they all start hanging their stockings by the chimney with care. POPCORN: You heard that one? CINEMA: It’s not an obscure story. POPCORN: Telling you, dude. All of us are whores for Santa. CINEMA: Um, yeah, in a sense. However, he wasn’t always the jolly, gift-giving machine that we think of today. The early illustrations of Nicholas depict him as more a symbol of discipline and punishment than of merriment, with him holding a birch rod – POPCORN: All about that S&M. CINEMA: Possibly. He had the money, and was the patron saint of banking, piracy, butchery, thievery, and . . . New York City. Initially, Santa wasn’t even considered to be of human origin, nor was he depicted that way in the earliest stories. POPCORN: What the hell was he? CINEMA: Well, the people of many European countries believed that spirits, both good and bad, were very active throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. It’s not so different from the pagan origins of Halloween – POPCORN: Alright, dude. The twelve days of Christmas . . . I got Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years . . . maybe you can count Thanksgiving . . . CINEMA: It’s a liturgical thing, and somewhat complicated, having to do with differences in calendars and church traditions. Basically, it’s the twelve day stretch from Christmas Day until January 5th, which is known as Epiphany. This was the supposed date when the Three Wise Men finally reached the Christ child, bearing gifts – POPCORN: But we say screw all this waiting shit, gimme my presents now? CINEMA: In true American style, yes. Anyway . . . these spirits, that were so active around the day we’ve come to know as Christmas, have evolved into elves. Santa more or less stepped up to be king of the elves, due in part to Clement C. Moore’s 1823 poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. It wasn’t until Thomas Nast’s illustration for an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly that Santa Claus was pictured as a large, jovial human being. Before then, he was generally perceived as . . . a large elfin creature. POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: Creepy, right? POPCORN: This thing’s just slidin’ down the chimney and coming into the house while we sleep. Little Keebler bastards. Wanna know what else looks like elves, dude? CINEMA: Demons. POPCORN: Uh-huh. CINEMA: Well, then you should really like RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE, a dandy little Finnish horror movie from a few years ago. This movie is a bit like THE THING. If, instead of Kurt Russell, it starred the kid from A CHRISTMAS STORY. POPCORN: Ralphie! CINEMA: Set in a bleak, snowy wasteland at the border of Finland and Russia, there is a massive and foreboding mountain dominating the landscape on the Russian side. An excavation team is there, not surprisingly led by an American scientist. They have made some kind of discovery deep within the mountain, which the scientist is calling the largest burial mound in the world. The men are given a few basic rules: no cursing and no smoking. POPCORN: You better not pout, you better not cry, you better watch out – CINEMA: I’m telling you why. There are two young Finnish boys who have been spying on the excavation, sneaking back through the hole they’ve cut in the fence. There’s Pietari, who bears a striking resemblance to Ralphie – right down to the rifle slung over his shoulder, Army style – and his friend Jusso. It’s almost Christmas, so Pietari starts talking about Santa. Jusso explains that Santa doesn’t exist. POPCORN: But Ralphie does some research. CINEMA: He does, and he doesn’t really like what he finds. The real Santa was totally different, he tells Jusso. The Coca-Cola Santa is a hoax, but this other character . . . POPCORN: Big horns. Boiling kids. CINEMA: You got it. POPCORN: Ralphie’s no fool, though. He armors up in hockey gear and sticks that bear trap in the chimney. Kids are always smarter than adults in these flicks. CINEMA: So Pietari’s father, Rauno, is part of a local group of reindeer herders, rounding up the deer and then skinning them, processing them, in a commercial butcher shop set up in the garage. Rauno and Pietari join some other villagers in the round-up area, finding that almost all the reindeer have already been killed. They discover the hole Pietari and his friend had cut in the fence, assume that the excavation team are responsible, and head up toward the mountain to demand compensation. POPCORN: But everybody’s gone. Nothin’ but a big crater in the middle of the mountain. Dude, that was THE THING all the way. When they go to the camp and a bunch of dead dipshits have thawed out the alien critter . . . CINEMA: Pietari tries telling his father and the other men about the centuries-old legend, that Santa was this monstrous, child-eating entity that terrorized the local villagers. They were able to trick him onto the lake, then freeze him and bury him under the mountain. POPCORN: Yeah, kid. Sure. Why don’t you go suck on a lollipop. CINEMA: But then they find that creepy old man in Rauno’s wolf trap. POPCORN: Dude . . . CINEMA: And all the kids in the village are coming up missing, including Pietari’s friend. POPCORN: Dude, that old Santa creature. CINEMA: He wasn’t so much Santa as – POPCORN: Well, they put the creepy old bastard in a Santa suit. Not crazy about the way he was looking and sniffing at Ralphie. CINEMA: There is something truly unsettling about this thing they call Santa. POPCORN: Imagine all the mommies and daddies walking Junior up to see Santa at Macy’s and finding this freaky son-of-a-bitch sittin’ up there. CINEMA: While the film still contains messages about familial love, brotherhood, and friendship, not to mention a more-or-less happy ending, all of these things are arrived at naturally. There’s none of this Christmas miracle stuff saving everyone in the end. POPCORN: Whoa, dude. Where’s the red-and-green love? CINEMA: While completely on board with Halloween, I’m something of a Christmas skeptic. Whatever meaning this holiday once had has been utterly obscured by rampant commercialism, religious arrogance, and the complete and total loss of . . . anything that made it magical when I was a child. POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: All apologies, it’s not nearly as bitter as it sounds. It’s just that all of these traditions have so little basis in reality. You enjoy the mistletoe, right? POPCORN: Yeah, dude. CINEMA: Did you know that “mistletoe” is from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “little dung twig”? It’s a parasite that grows on evergreen trees, spread through bird droppings. POPCORN: Alright, you Ebenezer bastard, I got one for you. CINEMA: Oh good. POPCORN: Yep. Even wrote it down here. You ready? CINEMA: Well, I sup – POPCORN: Ever heard of . . . Caga Tio? CINEMA: I can’t say that I have. POPCORN: Really? Well, it’s this thing they do somewhere in Spain. Caga Tio . . . it means the pooping log. The kids get these logs, all hollowed out, with legs and little faces drawn on them. They start feedin’ them on, like, December 8th or something. Sticking stuff down inside the log. Then, on Christmas Day, they put this little log-dude in the fireplace and just start beatin’ the shit outta him with sticks and stuff. CINEMA: No way. You made this up. POPCORN: No, for real, dude. They beat the log and it poops out candy and fruit and nuts. Something here about the last thing being . . . a garlic bulb or onion. Maybe a herring. CINEMA: You’re obviously high. POPCORN: Got nothin’ to do with it. The whole family crowds around the log and sings while the kids are beating the holy hell out of it for Jesus . . . “Shit log, shit log, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don’t shit well, I’ll hit you with a stick, shit log!” CINEMA: Get out of here. POPCORN: Swear, dude. Shit’s on the internet. CINEMA: Well, then it must be true. Your . . . log . . . might somehow correspond to another Catalan tradition, known as the Caganer. POPCORN: Jimmy Caganer. CINEMA: It’s a Christmas statue found in nativity scenes throughout parts of Spain, Portugal, and Italy. There’s the entire town of Bethlehem, with Mary and Joseph, little baby Jesus, and the Caganer figure way over in the furthest corner from them. He’s taking a crap. POPCORN: Nuh-uh. CINEMA: Absolutely true. He’s usually wearing a red cap, dressed as a peasant, with his pants around his ankles. Beneath him, most figures even include a little plastic poo. Modern versions have come to include Santa, nuns, devils, and even celebrities. No one has really ever been able to confirm where this tradition came from, but the Caganer has been shitting in Bethlehem for hundreds of years now. POPCORN: Sounds like someone else I know. CINEMA: Sweet potatoes. POPCORN: What? CINEMA: I’m taking sweet potatoes to the potluck. POPCORN: You might wanna take that movie too. Pastor Bob would probably like it. See larger image Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Blu-Ray + DVD) Young Pietari lives with his stern reindeer-herding father Rauno in arctic Finland. On the eve of Christmas, an enormous excavation at a nearby mountain disturbs the locals and captures Pietari’s curiosity. When Rauno’s raindeer herd is mysteriously slain and the children in town go missing, Pietari realizes that the dig has unearthed the evil Santa Claus of local lore – who no one wants coming to town. Pietari’s father rounds up a posse and captures the nightmarish creature in an attempt to sell him to the misguided leader sponsoring the dig. But Santa’s freakish elves will stop at nothing to free their fearless leader, and what ensues is a fantastically bizarre holiday adventure testing the bond of father and son and pitting man against mythology.RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE is a wildly original re-imagining of the most classic of all childhood fantasies and a darkly comic gem destined for perennial holiday viewing. New From: $26.03 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.