Friday, September 17, 2010

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Pietari (played by Onni Tommila), a young boy living in rural Finland with his single father Rauno (Jorma Tommila), is intrigued by the excavation being done on a nearby mountaintop by a group of supposed scientists. After investigating with his friend, Pietari becomes consumed with the thought that the scientists have found Santa Claus frozen in the ice; but this is not the "Coca-Cola" version of Santa we're used to today, but a much darker one from ancient lore, one that would sooner spank or boil alive young children. As mysterious happenings soon envelope his neighbours, only Pietari knows what's going on, and may be their only saviour.

It's hard to characterize this film; it's more of a thriller with some horror elements thrown in, but with a lot of humour and some tender moments around the relationship between father and son. The film, from director Jalmari Helander based on idea from himself and his brother, is a prequel of sorts to the short films Helander has previously released on the Internet (YouTube has Part 1 and Part 2).

The movie maintains a brisk pace right out of the gate, and the suspense builds to a thrilling and hilarious climax. Young Onni Tommila does a great job as Pietari, and is one of the best things about the film. Overall, it was really fun and exciting, and it seemed to be a real crowd-pleaser. Well worth seeing if you get a chance.

Director Jalmari Helander did a Q&A after the film:

  • He's made two shorts on the same topic before, and this movie is kind of a prequel; everyone seems to like the shorts and always ask him why he doesn't make a feature, so he did.
  • The idea was developed by him and his brother; they wondered why Santa Claus has changed over the years. The original Father Christmas is totally opposite from the one we have now. So they started to investigate it.
  • The music was done by first-time composer Juri Seppä, who is a friend of Helander's.
  • Onni Tommila is actually Helander's nephew, and has been in a few of Helander's short films. Helander thinks Tommila is really something.
  • When asked why there are no women in the film, Helander responded that there was one in the beginning on the first shooting day, but he suddenly realized that there couldn't be any in the story. He originally had more women in the script (for example, Pietari had a mother), but when men have their own plans, it's so much easier to do those plans when there's no women around asking "what the hell are you doing?"
  • Shooting took place over 26 days.
  • They went to the northern part of Norway because the mountains are great there, unlike in Finland. The real Korvatunturi mountain is a really stupid, sad hill.
  • It was nice to be really isolated with the whole team, it was really interesting.
  • They don't have the Easter bunny in Finland, they have an Easter Witch, but Helander doesn't have any opinion on her.
  • Helander is 34 years of age. One of his influences is the movie E.T.

Possible spoilers below:

  • He's working on something else right now, but does have an idea for a sequel. He says it's not going to be pretty with all these Santas around the world.
  • There's lots of CGI in the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film, not so much in the beginning, except for some snow, the excavated pit, and dead reindeer (because they didn't have enough real ones).


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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