Racism and suppression are examined through the eyes of an adolescent girl in the breakout Swedish drama, “Sami Blood.”
The film is director Amanda Kernall’s debut feature and powerfully displays a woman who knows how to walk the fine line between childhood innocence and female empowerment. “Sami Blood” has screened at many prestigious film festivals including Sundance, TIFF, Venice, and more, and is now playing at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center.
“Sami Blood” opens with an elderly woman attending the funeral of her sister in a small, Swedish farm town. Dressed differently than the other attendees and keeping her distance while they socialize, it appears that Elle Marja (Maj-Doris Rimpi) is cut from a different cloth than the other salt of the earth land laborers.
We come to understand Elle Marja’s life story and her pivotal transformative moment through a flashback as the elderly Elle Marja stares out at the reindeer herders and then cuts to a 14-year-old Elle Marja. We jump to the 1930’s, a time when segregation was acceptable and being of Sami heritage was looked down on by higher society. Elle Marja struggles with the grittiness of her family’s lifestyle as reindeer herders and sees a way out by attending a boarding school with her sister in the quaint rolling hills of Sweden.
Though the circumstance may be different for those watching, the universal theme of struggling for acceptance is felt by all, and “Sami Blood” is a terrific example of this feeling portrayed onscreen.
By attending boarding school, Elle Marja is forced to leave her Sami heritage behind for “proper” and a more socially acceptable Swedish lifestyle. Abandoning her previous life doesn’t come easy and Marja endures humiliation and bullying from her peers who are aware of her true identity. When she meets a boy, Niklas (Julius Fleischanderl), she instantly falls for him. Using a fake name and backstory, Elle Marja realizes that she can never truly escape her identity and is forced to decide whether or not to tell him the truth and risk destroying the potential of a future relationship.
“Sami Blood” has some of the same qualities that make Disney’s “Cinderella” such a compelling movie. Masking one’s true identity and falling in love under a guise that you are someone else, is a confusing moment in any person’s life, and Elle Marja’s naivete about the situation is heartbreaking. Newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok, who plays a young Elle Marja, is a tempered yet powerful force on screen. Her face is so expressive and it is the subtlety of her movements that make Elle Marja so relatable in this coming of age film. Although the film’s impact may be different for each viewer, the universal theme of struggling for acceptance is felt by all, and “Sami Blood” is a terrific example of this feeling portrayed onscreen.
“Sami Blood” is not rated. 110 minutes. Now playing at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center and the Landmark Sunshine Theater in New York.