I find that the more I enjoy I film, the more I’m willing to follow the rabbit hole down its lore and history. I’m not content with just following the story and characters, I feel like in order to better appreciate the film I have to delve deeper into the history, or in the case of fiction the mythology of the world the story and the characters live in. After watching writer and director Amanda Kernell’s film, Sami Blood, I now feel that I’m an absolute expert in reindeer herding. The film is a masterfully melancholy film about a 14-year old girl rejecting her heritage and upbringing due to the negative stigma and social prejudices in Sweden. The Sami are nomadic herders, and they’re often treated as basically Swedish rednecks despite having a wealth of culture and tradition. This narrow mindset and discrimination fuels the film’s main character to abandon her life and seek a new one amongst the very people who look down on her people in the first place.
“The film is a masterfully melancholy film about a 14-year old girl rejecting her heritage…”
The film begins with a prologue set in a more present day; we’re introduced to an elderly woman who calls herself Christina as she travels with her family to a funeral for her sister. Her children are eager to participate in tradition, but there’s a resistance and an almost outright callousness emanating off of her towards everything that has to do with their upbringing and birthright. The film then flashes back to Christina’s adolescent years where it’s revealed that her actual birth name is Elle Marja. She’s a role model to her younger sister, Njenna, and an incredibly intelligent young woman going to nomad school in Lapland. Right off the bat, we’re shown that the Sami are treated as being inferior. There’s a disturbing scene where all of the young female classmates are examined and photographed in the nude for scientific research. Elle Marja runs away after falling for a handsome boy from the city, and becomes obsessed with leaving her old life behind, including her family.
“”It’s a simple coming-of-age story with a setting unusual for an American audience, but it’s relatable and easy to follow.”
It’s a simple coming-of-age story with a setting unusual for an American audience, but it’s relatable and easy to follow. Even before I looked into the Sami culture, I picked up the gist of things. The actors all have a strong intensity to them, specifically Maj-Doris Rimpi as the elderly Christina/Elle Marja; she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but she emotes so perfectly with her facial expressions. You can see a deep-rooted conflict within her that plays out during the film’s ending. Lene Cecilia Sparrok handles the bulk of the film’s running time as young Elle Marja, and she does a fantastic job as well. Watching her experience all of the bigotry and hatred towards her people morph her own viewpoint into self-loathing and denial was a tragic journey and Sparrok nailed it. I do think that the film failed to fully explore the relationship between Elle Marja and her sister, Njenna (played by Mia Erika Sparrok); there’s this interesting dichotomy between the sister that embraces her heritage and history versus the one who rejects it. They only have a handful of scenes together, and I would have liked to see more of it. There’s a scene where Elle Marja has a confrontation with her Mother, a character that’s only referenced, but never seen until the final minutes. I think this character could have added more to the story, and exploring Elle Marja’s familial relationships could have made her more relatable.
Sami Blood gets a solid recommendation from me based on the strength of its lead character, and the interesting angle and added layers to its very familiar premise. Visually, the film is a work of art, especially one particular scene involving Elle Marja with reindeer in the fog. I think the relationship between the siblings should have been explored a bit more, especially based on how the film ends, but that’s just a minor issue. The history of the Sami people is an interesting one, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be Google searching their history and traditions for days after watching the film; it sticks with you that deeply.
8 out of 10