A Finnish Christmas Tale.

I spent 90 minutes of my holidays at the Music Box theater in Chicago watching a Finnish Christmas movie called RARE EXPORTS. The Santa legend takes on nefarious undertones as grizzled Finnish men snarl, “you better watch out,” and a little Bjork-faced boy pleads with his father to whip him for being naughty.

Let me just say that it was a pretty bad movie. Narratively, it made massive leaps in logic and plot. Here’s the inciting incident for example: Our hero, Bjork-Face (fine, his name is Pietari), believes in Santa til his older jerk friend, Juuso, tells him it’s a ruse. (Why you’d believe that kid is beyond me. He’s got a mullet and is wearing a metallic feather earring.) Once Juuso lets the cat out of the bag, Pietari magically finds old books with the true legend of Santa – and they were in his house the whole time!

If I pull one thread, the whole film unravels.

The premise is that Santa was actually a bad-ass who terrorized the land. Pietari’s books show Santa skinning kids alive, boiling them in oil, that sort of stuff. So eons ago the Sami people lured him on to a frozen lake where he fell through and became a gigantic ice cube. Then they pulled the ice cubed Santa out, packed him in sawdust and built a mountain around him… until a greedy American realized what was in the mountain! Chaos ensues.

So the defrosting effort gets underway and suddenly a crazy-eyed, naked, bearded old geezer shows up at Pietari’s house. The dumb adults think he’s one of the American miners who have been excavating that mountain. Oh, and all the other village children disappear but no cause for concern if you’re Finnish. All the parents think they’re out trapping wolves and chasing girls. They’ll be back. Only Pietari realized that naked dude is Santa.

Or is it?

Turns out that’s an elf. Santa is still frozen solid in a shed, nothing but a giant set of horns protruding from the mammoth ice block. Santa must be a 60 foot killer under that fake ice. What I found funniest in this whole film is that so many decisions were based on a minuscule budget. I know because I’ve made plenty of these decisions.

Director: Can I have a techno-crane?

Me: No, we can’t afford it. You can have 2 grips and a ladder.

(Bit of a spoiler alert here.) Santa is never defrosted, they just blow him up inside the ice block. And they only had to spend money on a giant set of protruding horns. They did, however, spend a lot of their budget on some truly horrible CGI – done by a company called FAKE! Really? I wouldn’t have guessed.

The best (worst) CGI part may have been at one point it looks like about 300 naked “elves” are chasing Pietari on a helicopter that is carrying a giant net containing all of the town’s children in burlap sacks. Pietari is barely holding on to the net that is supposed to be hundreds of feet in the air, shouting Rambo-like dialog into a walkie-talkie. And all you see on the ground are a bunch of wizened old naked Scandi guys running through the snow. In my head, I was the producer calling the casting agency and the exchange went like this:

Me: I need to cast a few dozen old white guys with beards.

Agent: What are they doing?

Me: Just running. In the snow. At night. In Finland.

Agent: OK.

Me: Oh, they’ll be naked. But we’re paying scale.

Agent: I can have you some headshots by Tuesday.

And that is why I love making movies. Happy 2011.

About rivetingpictures

I am a documentary filmmaker living in Chicago. I was the series producer of Y’ALL VERSUS US: HEAD 2 HEAD, an episodic documentary series shot over four months in rural Mississippi. A co-production between Young & Rubicam and Moxie Pictures, it aired nationwide on Fox Sports in 2010. I produced and directed TOWN AND COUNTRY (Milwaukee International Film Festival premiere 2009), co-producer and co-director of ALMOST HOME, which was part of the 2006 ITVS Independent Lens series; producer, director and editor of the documentary ORACLE OF OMAHA and producer/director of a series of web shorts entitled KILL IT AND COOK IT WITH LARRY. I serve on the Board of Directors for IFP Chicago and as committee chair for the IFP Producers Series, dedicated to enriching the professional experiences of Midwestern filmmakers. I have produced and filmed in Tanzania, Haiti, Australia, New Zealand, the former Yugoslavia and throughout America and Western Europe. I was one of 12 international filmmakers accepted in the HotDocs Film Festival’s DocLab in 2009 and is currently in Italy shooting a series of three documentary shorts exploring the artistry and craftsmanship of Venice’s chefs, painters and gondoliers.
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