This idyllic yet emotionally powerful international co-production between Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, follows the drama of a Lappish woman who gladly left her nomadic family behind, neglecting her origins in favor of the more intellectual and cosmopolitan life she envisioned for herself. The viewer has the chance to observe a zealous ambition turning into a tenacious battle against Nordic prejudice.
Anne-Marja (Maj-Doris Rimpi) is a stubborn, never-smiling 78-year-old woman who changed her name many years ago to Christina. The combination of wrinkled skin with a permanently severe look lets us guess she had a tough life in her youth days. We find her heading to Lapland for her sister’s Sami funeral in the company of her son and granddaughter.
Boycotting any possible contact with the locals and isolating herself in a hotel room after refusing to acknowledge her sister, Anne-Marja recalls a tumultuous past, letting us know how she abandoned the Great Northern Mountain, her mother – a reindeer herder, her fragile sister, and the rural smell of the Lapps in order to become a teacher in Uppsala.
The narrative winds back to the 30s when Anne-Marja, 14 (now brilliantly played by Lene Cecilia Sparrok), and her younger sister Njenna (Mia Sparrok), were temporarily sent to a boarding school for Sami children in the South. While the former, a bright student who already spoke fluent Swedish at that time, showed a strong will to become independent and successful, the latter, perceivably different in nature, was yearning and counting the days to go back to her family.
Even owning a monumental intelligence, things didn’t go smoothly for Anne-Marja since the Sami people were considered inferior and prevented from attending better schools to proceed their studies. Trying to hide her true identity by adopting the name of her schoolteacher, she runs away from school but finds prejudice and humiliation everywhere, even when she mistakenly thought that Niklas (Julius Fleischanderl), an Uppsala boy she fell for, would become an ally.
Seamlessly written and compellingly directed by Amanda Kernell, who causes a very much positive impression in her debut feature, “Sami Blood” is a tale of rebellion, ambition, perseverance, and forgiveness, told with a Scandinavian tranquility and sustained by a top-quality performance by the young newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok.
The endearing images – photography is by Sophia Olsson – bestow a picturesque charm and compositional rigor while the script was developed directly from Kernell’s 2015 short film “Northern Great Mountain”, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The irresistible “Sami Blood” did even better by winning the Label Europa Cinemas prize and best debutant director at Venice, the Human Values Award at Thessaloniki, and The Best Nordic Film prize at Goteborg Film Festival.
I can’t deny having a certain curiosity about Kernell’s next move, as well as where the young Lene can go after this first fulfillment.
ABOUT FILIPE FREITAS
Filipe Freitas is a New York-based Portuguese film critic and jazz music writer.
He’s the founder and lead critic of Always Good Movies film website, launched in 2010, and co-founder of JazzTrail, site that explores the vibrant NY Jazz Scene. He has a background in electrical engineering, a field he quit in 2012 to follow his dreams.