Jalmari Helander Talks Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Finish director Jalmari Helander takes us behind-the-scenes of this year's most awesome yuletide adventure

There aren't many holiday-themed movies hitting the theater this year. But that's okay, you only really need to see one, and that movie is director Jalmari Helander's Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Frightening, funny, and wholly original, there hasn't been a yuletide tale this exciting in at least the last ten years. It revolves around an excavation team in Finland who unearth the real Sant Claus and then unleash him on the locals. To say anymore would be to ruin the inherent surprises that await you inside, wrapped nicely in this scary package with a great big bow.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale opens this Friday in limited release, and its really a movie you need to see in the theater. Plus, it possibly won't be released on Blu-ray and DVD until this same time next year. You definitely need to see Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale as soon as possible. We recently caught up with Finish director Jalmari Helander to talk about that fact, the living Santas that have appeared around the globe recently, and possible sequel ideas for Rare Exports 2, which you will certainly be demanding after you get a good look at this first installment.

Here is our conversation with Jalmari:

Over Thanksgiving weekend, we saw this brush up with the living Santa Claus for sale in a cage, in downtown London. Why do you think that upset so many people?

Jalmari Helander: I have no idea. I saw the pictures, and it looked quite funny. I think we have a show like that here in Finland also. It's going to open here on Friday, too. If you are talking about the Santa on the street.

I guess some people didn't understand that this was a movie promotion. They were shaken. Ill with madness...

Jalmari Helander: (Laughs) I haven't heard too much about it, but that sounds really cool to me (laughs). It's very hard to say how I feel about it, because I have spent the last seven years with this idea. It's hard to think about, because I didn't know anything about it. But it certainly sounds good. I didn't have anything to do with this. That was their idea. I was in London when we had the screening there at the film festival. They had a Santa Claus there, too, inside a cage. But he was inside a movie theater. It is quite funny.

Can you explain the differences between the Santa Claus we see in your movie, and the one we know here in the States? This skinny, scary Santa is actually more in-line with Finish culture, right?

Jalmari Helander: Yeah. We Unfortunatly have the same Santa Claus image you guys do here now, in Finland. I think it's because of the Coca-Cola company. No one remembers the original Santa anymore. It's funny, because in the original stories, Santa is the complete opposite of, what we like to call, The Coca-Cola Santa. He is the complete opposite. He didn't bring any gifts. He demanded gifts for himself. It's very interesting.

Another thing that a lot of people don't know in the states, and it kind of shocks some people here when they see the movie, is that reindeer is eaten as often as cow or chicken in Finland. It's a regular staple of the diet.

Jalmari Helander: Actually, we don't eat reindeer as much. I would like to eat it much more, because it is very good. It's not like the meat we buy in the store. It's something that, if we go to a nice restaurant, we might have a reindeer steak. Or something along those lines. It's not so popular that we just go and buy it at the stores.

In the movie, we see that it's the main source of food for these guys living out in the country..

Jalmari Helander: Yeah. The case is different in the northern part of Finland. There are lots of reindeer herdsman. And that is the main food for those kinds of people. The folks in the north. But it's not like that for us people here in the south.

After watching the movie twice now, I must say that I really like this style of wearing the thick Christmas sweater and the down hat, and a pair of tidy whitey underwear. Are you afraid that you may have caused a new fashion fad? And what's up with that kid? Was he freezing to death?

Jalmari Helander: (Laughs) No! If you have shoes, you're not actually that cold. You can be outside for a minute. Then you'll have to run inside and put something on. That kid would go inside between takes. The real problem was all of the Santa Clauses in the movie. Or "elves". That was quite hard to pull off. It was a harder thing to imagine when I was writing the script. Then actually being there in the shoot, where we had all of these naked old men, and it was freezing. It got very interesting.

Where did you find that many old men who were willing to participate and do what you needed of them? They are completely naked in the snow. That had to be challenging...

Jalmari Helander: It wasn't so hard to find them. We shot the movie in the northern part of Norway, because of the mountains. There was one small village where we spent all of our time. There was this old man choir. All of the guys that were in the man choir were really interested to be in the film. Don't ask me why. They liked to do it. It had some challenges in the shooting. They had, like, forty seconds to shoot. Then they have to go spend twenty minutes inside. They'd go in what I called the "elf box". It was this really hot room where they played cards completely naked, and they drank some coffee. Then they would go back to the set. It was really weird.

It certainly sounds like a strange time. Now, I don't want to give away the big surprise at the end of the movie. I'd heard that the trailer sort of gives some stuff away, but not that big reveal at the end. I have to wonder, when we see the last shot of the movie, and these guys are expanding their Rare Export business, are they going to be selling something other than Santa Claus in the future? When we get the sequel, will it deal with another iconic mythical figure along the lines of Santa Claus?

Jalmari Helander: The purpose of adding A Christmas Tale to the end of the title? We don't have that here in Finland. Its just Rare Exports. Someone invented that in France, I think. Because they wanted people to understand that this is a Christmas movie. But I do have an idea about what is going to happen next. When the Santa Clauses are sent all over the world. It will be a very expensive movie about this worldwide catastrophic event. We'll see what happens.

That sounds awesome. So it will be a follow-up to the actual Christmas Tale. That is what we will see next?

Jalmari Helander: Our next movie will be something different. We'll see what happens.

I want to see that sequel. This is such a great movie, so hopefully someone will smarten up and give you the budget. If you move forward with that sequel, will we see more of this giant creature that they take the horn from?

Jalmari Helander: Yes. If I am going to make a sequel to Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, one of the things is that you can't kill Santa Claus, even if you have dynamite. There is a reason why people buried it under four hundred meters of rocks and dirt. Its because you can't kill it. If I ever get to make the second part of this, you will get to see the main motherfucker, also! (Laughs)

Watching the movie, the ginger bread cookies almost become a character in themselves. Was that something you were conscious of when you were writing the screenplay? Or did that naturally come out in those scenes?

Jalmari Helander: The idea had been there since the short films. We don't have too many Christmas elements in the film. There aren't any real global Christmas elements in it, so I thought it would be nice to have one thing. In Finland, we have a lot of these gingerbread cookies at Christmas time. It was a big thing to have them. I am glad people find it funny, when the big guy comes out, he has all of these gingerbread cookies in his hands. I love that.

You mention the short films that this is based on. When Rare Exports finally comes to DVD, are those short films going to be included so that fans can get an idea about where the genesis of this idea came from?

Jalmari Helander: I sure hope so. But they are now talking about the rights of the short films. I was in a commercial production company when I made those shorts, and they own the rights to them right now. I think they are quite...I'd say, they'd want quite a bit of money in selling the rights back to those short films. But lets see. They are making a deal tomorrow I think.

With most theatrical Christmas films, we have to wait a whole year before we see them released on DVD. Is that going to be the case here? If it is, we need to stress how important it is to actually go see this in the theater...

Jalmari Helander: I don't know the plan for US markets. In Finland, the plan is to release the DVD in the Springtime. I would like to hold the release until the next Christmas. But I don't have a say in such things. We'll see.

If you hold this, the fans will need to see it in theaters, and this is a grand sweeping film with beautiful cinematography. People don't need to watch it on TV. They need to see it on a big screen.

Jalmari Helander: Yes! Because it feels so different in a movie theater than it does on DVD. I have seen it in my house many times, and its, of course, a different experience in a movie theater. It also puts a new perspective on every film for me. Because I understand the difference, and the power in being in a big movie theater as opposed to my own house. Now, I want to see every movie at the theater, just because of this experience with Rare Exports. That is the place for this movie.

Its one of those movies that you are genuinely rooting for by the end. In that sense, it's also fun to watch with other people, because it's so grand.

Jalmari Helander: The experience of seeing it with an audience is so great, because the mood is very, very big. They are celebrating. It's the biggest thing for me, to be in that kind of screening. Tomorrow, we have this big celebration. The movie opens here on Friday, and tomorrow is when all the mothers and fathers are coming to this great event to see this film. I am really, really looking forward to tomorrow night.

That sounds exciting. I wish I could go. You mention the fathers and the mothers. Do you think this is a safe movie to bring the kids too?

Jalmari Helander: (Laughs) I don't know. Maybe there are some parts of the movie that aren't suitable for children. But when I was a child, I loved movies like this. I don't know. I don't think I am that sick.

If I were ten or a little older and I saw this movie, I would be obsessed. I'd have to go to the theater six or seven times to watch it again and again. I feel that way now. I would have begged my parents to take me back. I love this movie now, but I think I would have enjoyed it even more when I was a kid.

Jalmari Helander: I think a ten-year-old boy would be quite happy about this movie.

About the age of the kids that are in it.

Jalmari Helander: Yeah. Yeah.

Were you always fascinated by Christmas movies? Or did you make this because you've been disappointed with them in recent years?

Jalmari Helander: This movie is nothing...It's not about Christmas movies. If you want to know my favorite Christmas movies, I would have to say Die Hard and Home Alone. They are quite good Christmas movies, I think.

Did you ever see that old Christmas movie where Santa Claus battles Satan?

Jalmari Helander: I have not even heard of that one, yet!

It's a classic from the 1960s. You need to look that up. I think it was made in Mexico.

Jalmari Helander: Okay. I will look it up!