I MET FATHER CHRISTMAS aka J’AI RENCONTRE LE PERE NOEL (1984) – Not to be confused with I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen, I Met Father Christmas is a 1984 children’s holiday film from France. This little honey is directed by Christian Gion, known mostly for his sub-Police Academy level comedies. I Met Father Christmas is partially enjoyable as a Yuletide kiddy flick but most of its entertainment value comes from the filmmaker’s ineptitude and their inclusion of some very questionable story elements.
Simon (Emeric Chapuis), who lives with his grandmother, is a withdrawn little boy often bullied by his peers, like the protagonists of so many other children’s tales. What makes him UNLIKE the protagonists of so many other children’s tales is the reason for his melancholy nature – his parents were seized by African terrorists and the French government has refused to meet the conditions set by the warlord for releasing them alive.
No, I’m not joking. (And no, this isn’t an origin story for young John McClane.) The poor kid is in emotional limbo, not knowing if his parents are dead or alive or if he’ll ever see them again. Even his letter to Santa says he doesn’t want toys, he just wants his parents back home safely. (Insert your own “You’ll put your eye out, kid” joke here.)
You’d think this highly unusual state of affairs would prompt the other children to stop bullying him for awhile or would prompt his teachers to clamp down hard on the bullying, but you’d be wrong. In this bizarre movie even one of the janitors at the school, played by Dominique Hulin, joins in the harassment of Simon.
When the sadistic custodian wads up a ball of spackle and throws it at the kid’s face, leaving a big red mark, viewers realize they’re not in Kansas anymore. Hell, this Freddy Krueger in the making even threatens to cook and eat the kid without paying any penalty.
Simon does have two friends, his female classmate Elodie (Alexia Haudot, who went by “Little Alexia” at the time) and his teacher, played by former singer and then-anchorwoman Karen Cheryl. Karen sings all of the bland, unmemorable Europop tunes in the movie. One of them – Stop All This Crying Business – she sings to Simon as if he was sad over the death of his pet goldfish or something instead of the real-life nightmare of his parents being held hostage by terrorists.
The day before Christmas Eve is the last day of school for the term, and this movie would have us believe that the class’s activity planned for that day is a field-trip to an airport. Yep, at one of the busiest travel times of the year, a school AND an airport actually okay having a busload of unpredictable children clogging up the facility, getting lost, crying, or posing any of the other challenges that youngsters can present.
Simon and Elodie’s cheerful but vacuous singing teacher fails to notice that they go missing during the field trip. Simon wants to personally ask Santa to save his parents, apparently not trusting his letter to do the trick. He leads his gal pal Elodie onto a flight headed for Rovaniemi in Finland, where their teacher told them Santa’s workshop is located instead of the North Pole.
NOTE: Finland as Santa’s home was apparently a fairly commonly-held notion in European popular legend then and now. Rovaniemi is a city in Finland’s northernmost province, Lapland. It is also possible that this film was partially made to help publicize the upcoming 1985 opening of Santa Claus Village, a Rovaniemi tourist attraction. That village is just over a mile away from the Rovaniemi airport, which is where Simon and Elodie’s plane is headed. Prior to 1985 Korvatunturi was considered Santa’s home, which is why I suspect that I Met Father Christmas may have been part of a publicity push regarding Finland’s “official” re-designation of Rovaniemi as the site of Santa’s workshop and village.
At any rate, Simon and Elodie are casually assumed to be the two children who are conveniently missing from the waiting plane for Rovaniemi and are hustled aboard. No deeper checking is done since this was 17 years before the September 11th, 2001 Muslim terrorist attacks. (I’m surprised Christian Gion never tried incorporating THOSE events into a children’s holiday special. It could have featured a grown-up Simon acting as a John McClane style hero. I Met Father Christmas 2: Die Harder.)
The childrens’ daffy singing teacher never notices that they’re missing AND we are never told the fate of the two children who really were the ones missing from the Rovaniemi flight, all of which adds to the Bad Movie Charm of this production. I like to think those two missing kids returned to their house and had their own Home Alone type of adventure, but I’m kind of weird.
Simon and Elodie wander away from the airport upon arrival and get lost in the snows of Lapland. They lie down to sleep like the goofy kids in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and soon encounter Santa (Armand Meffre) driving along in an earthbound sleigh pulled by reindeer. (The Rovaniemi area is so well-known for reindeer that it was used in the documentary Reindeerspotting.)
Santa takes the children to his workshop, which is supervised by a female Good Fairy also played by Karen Cheryl without the children once mentioning that she looks just like their teacher. Karen’s Europop showtune about the Elves and their work features enjoyably tasteless lyrics about them “slaving away” for Santa. Even more enjoyably tasteless is Santa’s eccentric method of waking up the kids by literally THROWING A PUPPY DOG AT THEM while they sleep. (Was everyone involved in making this movie insane?)
Kids will be kids and the following night Simon, Elodie and the puppy that served as their wake-up projectile get lost exploring the snowy territory around Rovaniemi. They fall into the clutches of an ogre played by the same actor who played the psychotic school janitor earlier. Once again, the kids don’t even notice this resemblance to someone they know back home.
The ogre forces children that he captures to slave away for him – just like Santa with the Elves I guess – and when they have finished all the tasks assigned to them he says he will eat them. Simon and Elodie shrewdly decide to take their time with their chores to delay their fate until Santa and the Good Fairy can save them.
Meanwhile, in a cute bit, Santa and the Good Fairy consult Santa’s extensive computer files about the world’s children to study up on Simon and Elodie. The fairy teleports Santa and herself to Africa to try to save Simon’s parents, leading to Santa almost getting eaten by a crocodile. We also get to see the Good Fairy speaking monkey language to some tree-dwelling primates who recognize Santa.
Eventually Santa and the Good Fairy find the village where the terrorist warlord is holding Simon’s parents. The bad guys capture the pair while they are planning their raid to free those parents. We are told that even the terrorists’ children know and love Santa and since the kids fear that neither they nor any other children in the world will get any presents if Santa is held captive, they conspire to free Saint Nick, the Good Fairy and Simon’s parents.
While the parents are sent home on a plane provided by the U.N. the Good Fairy teleports herself and Santa back to Rovaniemi, where they learn that Simon and Elodie are missing. The fairy, Santa and his Elves rescue the children. NOTE: Earlier it looked like the puppy dog with the kids was about to be eaten by the ogre in a sandwich but he wasn’t. However, in typical Bad Movie fashion we never learn the actual fate of the dog any more than we learn what happened to the two kids who should have been on the plane to Rovaniemi.
Santa lets Simon and Elodie ride along on his flying sleigh on Christmas Eve, and they get to help him deliver presents to homes between Finland and France. He eventually deposits them at their hometown, where nobody even noticed they had disappeared.
The children arrive just in time to join their teacher and their classmates singing a song – Written In The Snow – at Midnight Mass. (And please feel free to make the expected sophomoric jokes about ways of writing in the snow.) Afterward, Simon and his parents are joyfully reunited at his house and this incredibly strange holiday offering comes to a close.
Karen Cheryl failed to get her producer’s permission to appear in I Met Father Christmas and so the high-selling soundtrack was yanked and later re-recorded with another singer doing the songs instead of her.
In the years since this movie’s release, Rovaniemi has become more and more entrenched as the home of Santa and his workshop. A Christmas special called Lapland Out was filmed there as part of Tots TV, as was the Bam Margera movie Where The #$&% Is Santa? Hell, even a Lordi heavy metal music video was filmed there for their song Hardrock Hallelujah.
I Met Father Christmas fluctuates between elements that seem perfectly fitting for a children’s holiday movie and elements that seem like no rational human being would include them in such a project. African terrorists? An unstable janitor who throws spackle-balls at kids and threatens to eat them? Puppy-throwing? Simon and Elodie being taunted as “lovers” by their classmates?
All of it adds up to one of the most enjoyably Psychotronic of Christmas movies. I highly recommend it for people who share my oddball sense of humor.
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