Student Critic Elizabeth Dexter reviews Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell, Sweden, 2016)
Amanda Kernell’s impressive debut, Sami Blood, tells a familiar coming-of-age story with a wholly new specificity and a keen eye.
It begins in the present day, with an elderly Swedish lady visiting the northerly limits of Scandinavia to attend her estranged sister’s funeral. This land is where Sámi people live, but Christina has an uncomfortable disdain for the language and culture. The narrative then jumps back to the 1930s and Christina, then Elle-Marja, is fourteen and lives with her sister, mother and their reindeer. She is Sámi.
Elle-Marja experiences violent alienation ostensibly justified by the ‘scientific’ racism in her curriculum at her nomad school, where she is visited upon by anthropologists who measure and photograph her naked. She is wounded, branded even, by a group of Swedish boys and Kernell quietly lingers on the image of this wound throughout the film as an outward expression of exclusionary brutality. Elle-Marja, unable to reconcile her desires with her reality, runs away to Uppsala for university, however her new cosmopolitan friends foster the same other-ing approach to her.
By bookending the film with Christina the older, Kernell (who is half Sámi herself) addresses the sprawling legacy of colonialism on a personal scale. Lene Cecilia Sparrok and Maj-Doris Rimpi as the younger and older Elle-Marja are tremendous, with eyes that bellow from behind a stoic face. It is also filmed with fluid strokes in dark blues and cold sunlight, communicating doubly the ruggedness of the landscape and the difficult poetry of Elle-Marja’s story. In Sami Blood, Kernell proves herself a precise and empathic storyteller.
Elizabeth Dexter is 21 and studies Comparative Literature at King's College London.