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Story of Santa
on 16 May 2010
This is the story of the man who became Santa Claus... no, not the real-life St. Nicholas. This constantly snowdrifted little movie is a fictionalized account of how an orphan child with a knack for woodcarving became the legendary bringer of presents -- and while it sometimes loses its depth in pursuit of the Santa Claus legend, it's a sweet, warm-hearted little movie with the aesthetics of a storybook.
Nikolas' (Jonas Rinne) parents and baby sister are killed in a sleigh accident when he's young, and nobody in the village can afford to adopt the quiet boy. So the village families come up with a plan: Nikolas will be passed from family to family over the next six years, with each transition being at Christmas. And since Nikolas has a knack for carving wood, every Christmas he leaves toys on the doorstep of the families who once showed him kindness.
Then at thirteen (played by Otto Gustavsson), he's handed off to Isaac (Kari Väänänen), a crotchety and cruel carpenter who initially treats him like a slave. But after Isaac discovers Nikolas' secret, he begins to warm to the strange, generous boy. And as Nikolas grows to manhood (Hannu-Pekka Björkman), he's left with a remote, frozen house and a workshop filled with toys -- and a dream that he's determined to make real, bringing countless children toys every Christmas.
"Christmas Story" (original title: "Joulutarina") is a refreshing experience in a sea of schmaltzy made-for-TV movies and stupid Christmas comedies. It has a mellow homespun charm reflected in the poverty-stricken fishing village, log houses and layers of woolly clothing -- and there's no preachy message about the true meaning of Christmas (love/family/generosity/all that), just Nikolas displaying it as he slowly morphs into Santa Claus.
It's also pretty as a picture -- while there are some lovely shots of autumnal forests and fog-wrapped fishing boats, the real draw is the gorgeous pictures of little Finnish villages under a perpetual blanket of snow. The overall mood is an upbeat one, with a pleasant study of how the basic trappings of the popular fictional Santa Claus (the hat, the reindeer, the sleigh, the gifts) became a part of his legend. But it becomes darker and sadder as the lonely, generous man winds through the latter years of his life, only to have another upturn at the end.
One thing that is a problem: there is no Finnish soundtrack in this movie, just English subs and an English audio track dubbed by people who often didn't sound too enthusiastic. It actually was sometimes more fun to watch the movie with the sound turned off.
The child actors are thoroughly mediocre, but Björkman really throws himself wholeheartedly into his role -- he's jolly, generous and thoroughly devoted to his new goal. And he's got a beard that could The only problem is that when Nikolas reaches adulthood, his motives become rather murky -- it's not quite clear WHY he becomes so determined to devote his life to Christmas, toymaking and all kids in the region.
And while most of the actors are only briefly in the story, the few who stand out are excellent Väänänen gives a well-drawn performance as Isaac, who makes you hate his character, then pity him, then want to hug him; Mikko Kouki is quite good as Nikolas' best buddy.
"Christmas Story's" English dub hampers it, but that can't erase some solid acting, lovely scenery, and a pleasant little made-up story about Santa Claus' origins. A nice yuletide movie, if not a classic.