When I first saw that “Sami Blood” was available on streaming service Stan, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was clearly a film about the Sami in Scandinavia – but the caption of this 2016 film didn’t seem to provide much to go on..

A reindeer-breeding sami girl who is exposed to the racism of the 1930s at her boarding school, starts dreaming of another life.

Having been to the township where the Sami Council is located (Karasjok, Norway), and having discovered various facts about the Sami people in museums and visitor centres throughout Norway and Finland, I felt I had a bit of an understanding of how the Sami have historically been treated (spoiler: it hasn’t been nice) – but my knowledge, as limited as it is, has always been purely academic.

Then we come to the film. The filmmaker Amanda Kernell is a Swede with Sami ancestry on her father’s side – and she has beautifully, if hauntingly, brought a slice of Sami life to the screen with the story of a 14 year old Sami reindeer herder named Elle-Marja, who along with her little sister Njenna, have been sent away from the village they grew up in to attend a Swedish state-fun boarding school for Sami children.

An appalling reminder that the stolen generation is not purely an Australian shame, the two sisters are expected to speak only Swedish, are subject to racial examinations by doctors treating them more like animals than humans, and are constantly taunted and ridiculed by the ethic Swedes from the neighbouring community.

The Washington Post described the film beautifully with the following analysis: “Played by real-life sisters Lene Cecilia and Mia Erika Sparrok, Elle-Marja and Njenna are delights, but it’s the elder sibling’s performance that is the revelation. With her wide features and darting eyes — half furtive and half curious — the teenage newcomer beautifully embodies the survival instincts and self-loathing of a girl who has internalized the prejudice surrounding her and who uses her brains and moxie not to deflect attacks but to deny her own identity. Over the course of the film, Elle-Marja runs away to Uppsala, where she talks her way into the home of a boy she has just met — and, eventually, into a Swedish girls’ school — using her gift for language and assimilation to hide her roots.

How long that self-deception can persist, and what the psychic costs may be, are the central questions of the film, which opens with Elle-Marja as an old woman (Maj-Doris Rimpi), attending Njenna’s funeral. Told in flashback, “Sami Blood” is a beautiful, haunting film, anchored by a startlingly accomplished lead performance. It has the feeling of a distant memory — one that is neither entirely pleasant nor painful, but persistent.

If Kernell’s point is that you can’t deny who you are, this lovely, lyrical little film never hammers that point home. Rather, “Sami Blood” leaves its questions about identity hanging in the air, like the scent of something or someone that passed by long ago, but that still lingers — mysterious and mesmerizing — in the breeze.

A stirring, haunting movie that will leave you sitting back in your chair thinking “how was this allowed to happen”, Sami Blood is well worth a watch – and is available on Stan currently.

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