Christmas Story/Joulutarina

Starring: Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Otto Gustavsson, Jonas Rinne, Kari Väänänen Directed by: Juha Wuolijoki

In case you missed the visual that goes along with this post, the blog is NOT about A Christmas Story.  There is no Red Ryder BB Gun, there is no Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, there is no leg lamp.  This is  Christmas Story,  original title Joulutarina, a movie from Finland that has been dubbed in a very mediocre way.  Probably the only thing the two films have in common is a lot of snow.

Having gotten that out of the way, on to the review.

This tale comes from the land of the ice and snow (Lapland), hundreds of year ago.  On Christmas Eve, the youngster Nikolas (played by various characters as he grows up) is left alone in his family’s cabin as his father and mother take his baby sister Aada to the town doctor due to a high fever, planning to cut across the frozen lake.  Father reassures Nikolas that they will be back soon by giving the boy his pocket watch and promising to return before the little hand hit’s the six.  Of course, they do not return.  Other villagers come to the house long after the promised hour to tell Nikolas his parents’ footprints disappeared into the lake.

The small fishing village hold a meeting to see who will take in the boy.  No family will be able to permanently adopt the boy, so they decide for the next six years, he will spend a year at each family’s house.  Over the years, Nikolas is warmly welcomed into each home, and he shows his appreciation by carving wooden figures for the children of the village to thank them for their hospitality, distributing the toys on Christmas Eve. Over the years, the carvings become more detailed and sophisticated as his skills grow.

Of course, the village has an exceptional year of hardship, and the Nikolas’ future is once again up in the air, as he is an extra mouth to feed.  A visiting carpenter, Iisakki (Kari Väänänen) notices the woodcarving skill Nikolas has and offers to take him in as something of an apprentice.  Though the village knows Iisakki as grouchy and intimidating, they (of course) feel as though they have no choice but to send Nikolas with him.

Though predictable, the increasing respect and warmth master and apprentice develop toward each other is the stuff of typical feel-good holiday films, the movie begins to drag after the first hour.  The adult Nikolas is less heartwarming, more…not exactly creepy, but a little eccentric as he continues to craft toys for all the village children - even after his original peers began starting their own families.  As with the carpenter Iisakki, Nikolas is somewhat of a hermit, only visiting the village sporadically.   He seems to have an obsessive intent to expand his gift crafting and giving to other villages and eventually spread the cheer to children worldwide.

Basically this is a good movie for a while - especially the scenes of Nikolas trying to train reindeer to pull his sleigh)  but if you skip the last 20 minutes (which include a cryptically odd ending), you will probably like this film a lot more than if you watch the whole thing.

Written by Jennifer Venson