Film Review: Sami Blood (2016)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ – 3/5.

Author: Feargal Agard | Runtime: 110 min. | Director: Amanda Kernell | Year: 2016.

Such a very interesting and relevant thematic film. I had no expectations, because I simply wasn’t familiar with this reindeer-breeding Sami tribe, but the theme of this film is applicable throughout all ages. Many minority cultures have faced oppression from majority cultures and many individuals have dreamed of a different life. Wished to be considered normal and accepted by the majority. But what the majority thinks is not always that important.

Sami Blood tells the story of Elle-Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) who is a member of a reindeer-breeding tribe who lives in tents in the northern parts of Sweden. We first see her at a later age (78 years of age) when she is about to bury one of her family members. She wants nothing to do with her people at the funeral. As she tries to escape them we are taken to defining life events that occurred when she was a young kid in the 1930’s who had to go to the boarding school that was arranged for her people. It becomes clear that the Swedish mainstream culture see her people as inferior, unintelligent lower evolved beings as they are exposed to discrimination and they’re even studied by race biologists who measure their skulls and bodies in order to classify their race and stage of evolution. These very degrading events make her want to be part of mainstream Swedish culture. To achieve this she decides to become someone else and she even attempts to break ties with her family and culture, but it does not come easy.

Sami Blood was directed and written by Amanda Kernell and this is her feature film debut. It is remarkable to know that this film is based on Kernell’s short film Stoerre Vaerie (2015). About 10 plus minutes of the original short are even seen in the feature film. The film is very self-evident in the sense that it is clear what the story is about. The only question that remains is will the older version of Elle-Marja ever regret her choice and seek peace or will she forever be happy with her choice. It is referred to as a coming-of-age film, but in my opinion not so much per se. It deals with that thematic structure, but it is largely about self-acceptance. You can sense the pain in the story. Not wanting to be seen as inferior and different, but the need to be part of the rest. Normally you’d think equality would be the goal to achieve, but she even took it further as she wanted to be seen as superior just like the mainstream Swedes. Elle-Marja got indoctrinated to the point that she began to look down on her own people. It is really sad. I believe that stories like this one are important to be told as they are viable lessons for humankind. We need to understand what the situations of oppressed minority groups and individuals are like, whether they are western or non-western. Because there is so much hurt that can be caused, which can be avoided if we learn from these stories. The film stars Lene Cecilia Sparrok, Mia Erika Sparrok, Maj-Doris Rimpi and Julius Fleischanderl.

Lene Cecilia Sparrok’s acting was very effective. She made me connect to her circumstances, but she also manage to feel some of the pain. There were so many moments were I just felt how awkward particular situation must have been if you were standing there in her position. There were uncomfortable situations, displays of brute oppression and discrimination and painful moments of betrayal. You can clearly notice the struggle within her. Although you do not agree with her choices, they can be familiar and you still feel with her.

The camerawork is very tonal as it seriously conveyed the mood of the film and the country that they live in; Beautiful green floral color aspects, but also a dark tone that matches the mood of the main character and the discrimination that the mainstream Swedes practice towards her and her people. Then again it does take place in the far north of Sweden where the weather has a darker tone as well. Another thing that I noticed is that the director might have purposely considered the height of the actors during casting. The mainstream Swedes are taller in general than the Reindeer-breeder tribe’s people and overly blond, while the Tribes people including the main actress are shorter, wear different clothing and they often have dark hair. It creates a sense of difference which the Swedes notice when they classify the tribe’s people as ‘others’. The height really helped to convey the view that the Swedes have of tribe’s people. The camera often looks downwards on the main actress and upwards to the Swedes. She often has to look up to them as she is short than them, which displays exactly what she mentally thinks. She considers the mainstream Swedes to be better and she wants to be part of what she considers better.

Sami Blood is absolutely an interesting watch. The story is very moving and confronting at the same time. I’d recommend this film to anyone who likes the subject of self-acceptance, coming-of-age, discrimination and racism. Besides the film will make you experience what the main characters is going through. You’ll hate that they are discriminated and examined as if they cattle and you’ll want her to make great choices and escape the uncomfortable situations.

In Dutch theatres as from the 11th of May 2017.

Genre: Drama | Language: Swedish | Dutch Distributor: Cinemien Nederland BV.

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