In 2003 my favorite Christmas film was released, Bad Santa. Terry Zwigoff directed this clever dark comedy written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Billy Bob Thornton is Willie, a hard-drinking, self-destructive thug playing a department store Santa so that he and his fellow con man, Marcus (Tony Cox), playing Santa’s Elf, can fleece the store on Christmas Eve. One day, a chubby snot-nosed loser-kid (Brett Kelly) visits Santa. The Kid is certain that perpetually drunk, burned out Willie really is Santa so Santa moves in … and it just gets better from there. I highly recommended Bad Santa to my sister, Dovima. She saw it and emailed me her review:
Dovima: Gross! I can’t believe that’s your favorite Christmas film! Are we even related?
For years, I did not think I would live long enough to see another Christmas movie that would be as satisfying as Bad Santa until Milton and I saw Rare Exports, a fantasy-action-comedy hybrid set in snowy Finland at Christmastime. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, he offers a fresh and original take on the “real” story of Santa Claus and his very dedicated and oh so memorable elves.
The protagonist in this twisted tale is a mischievous child, stuffed bear-clutching, rifle-toting Pietari (Onni Tommila), who lives with his gruff father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), the butcher in a frozen mountain village. (Real-life father and son play father and son in the film.) Pietari is young enough to still believe in Santa Claus, even though his non-believing partner in high jinks, Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää), mocks him for it. The boys’ method of spying on a nearby archaeological dig financed by a multinational corporation has naughty consequences so Pietari suffers guilt. The dig is in the process of unearthing something mysterious buried deep in the mountain prompting curious Pietari to hit the books and research Santa Claus. The more he learns about Santa Claus, the more he fears this guy coming to his town. Pietari is certain that the real Santa Claus is on his way, he’s very pissed at all the children, and he’s not packing presents. Whenever Pietari attempts to communicate the burden on his mind to his father, he’s dismissed or ignored, and the audience shares the boy’s frustration.
We know that this kid is onto something.
As this riveting story unfolds, so does a sense of menace, suspense and humor. There is also much welcome dry wit throughout that adds to the fun of seeing such a highly original take on the origins of such a very familiar sentimental subject. Unfortunately, this accessible alternative film is rated R possibly due to the dropping of a few f-bombs and a hilarious cameo by a tomahawk, but this probably has more to do with a liberal amount of innocuous full frontal male nudity that is relevant to the story. How innocuous is the male nudity?
Milton was not turned on in the least. He was laughing – as was I.
Rare Exports is a gem that is suitable for most kids 12 and older as well as anyone who appreciates intrigue and fun in a season choking on sap and cheer. For those hungry for sap, there is a taste of that, too, at the end. Jalmari Helander has written and directed a very welcome new Christmas classic.
Even sap addicts like my sister, Dovima, might like this one.