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The Santa at the center of "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" is not the sort Mommy is likely to be kissing beneath the mistletoe (or anywhere else) this year. Rather, the focus of this bizarre Finnish fairy tale — as black as anything the Brothers Grimm could have dreamed up — is a sinister old codger who chews off ears and whose demon minion kidnaps innocent children. Ho ho no!
Drawing on ancient Scandinavian mythology, Jalmari Helander's feature debut (spun off from two of his short films) is a thing of frigid beauty and twisted playfulness. The time is just before Christmas, and the setting is northern Finland, where an American drilling operation has unearthed a mysterious block of ice sprouting a gigantic pair of horns.
Soon children from a nearby village begin to disappear, and a group of reindeer hunters finds its annual crop slaughtered in the snow. Only little Pietari (Onni Tommila) knows who's responsible; now he must persuade his gruff father (Jorma Tommila, Onni's father) to help him fight back.
Cocooned in a genuinely goose-pimply atmosphere and awash in marveling music, this Edward Gorey-meets-Joe Dante fable turns Santa (Peeter Jakobi) into a savage troll and his elves into naked, wrinkly graybeards. Kids will love the diminutive, motherless hero and a plot that's completely bonkers; adults will enjoy the exuberantly pagan images and deadpan humor. Tots, on the other hand, will probably never sit on Santa's lap again.— Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
Tue December 5, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
Finland, France, Norway, Sweden; 2010; in English, Finnish; 83 min, 35mm • official site
Director: Jalmari Helander, Writer: Jalmari Helander, Original Story: Jalmari Helander, Juuso Helander, Cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Per Christian Ellefsen