Sami Blood (2017): Movie Review

Sami Blood (2017)

The Sami people of northern Sweden’s Lappland region raise reindeer to this day, but much like most indigenous peoples, the history of racial discrimination and cultural misunderstanding are lain bare in Sami Blood.  When Christina (Maj-Doris Rimpi) reluctantly returns to pay her respects to her deceased sister, she is wracked with the demons of her past.  Her dismay is recounted through the story how she made her exit from the traditional Sami tribes’ herding past to join “Standard Swedish” society.  


When sisters Elle-Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) and Njenna (Mia Erika Sparrok) hurry along a wooded path to their Sami boarding school, they are not ready for the reality that will greet them.  This school who requires “Loud and proper Swedish,” opposed to their mother’s chastising when the sisters speak out of Sami language, and is very fond of corporal punishment, the sisters are taught well to keep their heritage on the outskirts while knowing their herding youth will become their reindeer-laden future.  Their teacher Lärarinnan (Hanna Alström, resembling an over-powdered Amy Adams a la The Master) is a fascist mother hen: speak flawless Swedish, have coffee with teacher; misspeak and anticipate lashings.

A certain rigidity possesses the tribe; their matching elfen costumes and traditional ways make them outsiders among their neighboring Swedes.  The Sami children are at boarding school to have their heritage drilled out of them while being expected to take up their “less evolved” lot in life.  The Lapp people have been harboring the same profession for generations mostly separated from general society.  Even social niceties threw Elle-Marja for a loop; a look of abject horror at trying to drink coffee with a raised pinky was hilarious and crushing where you could see this as a temper for worse to come.  Lene Cecilia Sparrok as Elle-Marja undergoes tremendous life upheaval during her time at the boarding school.  Asked to disrobe to have their measurements taken, the young women face an otherness as if they are a different species.  Elle-Marja’s examination produces all the dismay you’d expect from an explanationless measuring of your nose length and head circumference before being asked to strip for photographs by a doctor you’ve never met. Lene Sparrok is dragged through this invasion and lands on a different plane.  She is her group’s example, first to take on the task, and she will never be the same for it.


Writer-direct Amanda Kernell develops Elle-Marja’s coming of age as an assault.  She is dead set against returning home, but the outside world does not accept her.  Director of Photography Sophia Olsson is fond of a rear shot, but she knows how to capture the painful story without exposing its true indignity.  Capturing the natural beauty of Elle-Marja’s homeland in opposition to the spirit breaking occurrences of her youth creates a visually striking as well as strongly felt film.  Kernell’s story highlight the plight of indigenous cultures across the globe.  One would think that tradition for these cultures would be celebrated by the usually devout perpetrators of their persecution, but in a world amping back into the “<enter country’s name here> FIRST” campaigns in these financial tight, refugee laden times, Sami Blood is bitingly heard.


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