Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

December 2, 2010

Despite the fact that I’m an almighty Grinch who doesn’t particularly like or engage in all things Christmas, I do actually enjoy the odd Christmas film. But whereas It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and The Apartment (1960) do their job in making me “feel good”, and whilst both Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2 (1990) succeed in taking me back to my childhood, Bad Santa (2003) makes me giggle like a school child and Die Hard (1988) fills me with all kinds of Christmas kick-assery, recent release Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) left me feeling decidedly empty.

In spite of the film being formally very good; from cinematography to effects the film is highly successful in creating a cohesive “world” via aesthetic atmosphere; and whilst the idea for the story is joyously wicked, I couldn’t help but feel that the film was tonally flat. Tone, not always the easiest to describe element of a film, as it necessarily pertains to affect and experience, is probably still one of the most significant factors in terms of a film’s communicable success. The problem for Rare Exports then is that a slightly askew demographic affords the film with a bizarre dual-tonality that ultimately wrestles with itself rather than achieving the balance between its dark and heartwarming moments.

Having seen the promotional trailer and posters for the film first I admit I already had it in my head that this was a Christmas film for adult audiences. Expecting a subversive horror/thriller in the first instance, I hadn’t, until about five minutes into the screening, even considered that this might be a kids’ flick. Then, as the film progressed, I realised it wasn’t quite that either. Sitting somewhere between family friendly and mature content I spent the remainder of the film trying to align myself with one of these viewer positionings but sadly, to no avail.

Half of the time Rare Exports is a straight up comedy and during these moments it is most certainly aimed at a young audience. Moreover, its central protagonist is a young boy and in focusing on the question of who or what Santa truly is, both its thematics and identificatory standpoints further suggest a young audience. Fine. However, and conversely, the film is for the most part subtitled, includes strong language, has some full frontal male nudity and low-level violence as well as what might be considered “dark” or “sinister” themes – all of which suggest it’s probably a film for more mature audiences. The problem of course is that it flits between the two making the closest thing to a clear target audience: fifteen-year-olds – and that’s one almightily exclusive audience.

Perhaps then the film is, at least in intent, leveled at both (what I suspect to be the “truth”.) And whilst there are moments of genius in the film – hundreds of naked Santa elves running across the snowscape with their tackles dangling in the bitter Lapland breeze is one joyously shocking highlight, as is the film’s allusion to the role mythology plays in establishing collective “truths”, an element I would love to have seen elaborated on – the overall effect is neither chilling nor comforting and, like the fifteen-year-olds I suspect will constitute its greatest fan base, it’s really just that little bit awkward and underdeveloped.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday December 2 through Icon.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

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