Appearing on screen above its English translation, the Swedish title of Amanda Kernell’s debut feature Sameblod might provoke some interesting thoughts in the minds of its English-speaking audiences. A film that believes that less divides us than unites us, Sami Blood tackles the early twentieth century racial prejudices of the Swedish against the indigenous Sámi population they shared their land with.
With the scandal of its subject matter so little known, Kernell’s film is as much a socially conscious exposé as it is a fiction fable. Above all, there is a deeply compassionate understanding of what it is to be part of a persecuted race – almost Shakespearean in its empathy for the dispossessed.
Not as overtly moralistic as a lesser film might be, Kernell tends towards the well-drawn character studies of a period drama, painting a portrait of an outsider trying to gain entry back into the world. Is this a coming-of-age story? It almost feels too grown-up to be one; indeed, Lene Cecilia Sparrok’s exceptionally wise Elle-Marja feels almost ageless.
The film is bookended by its story set in the present day in which Elle-Marja, now in her nineties and known as “Christina” (played by a magnificent Maj Doris Rimpi) returns to Lapland to attend the funeral of her estranged sister. As well as a convenient structuring device, this mournful offering from Kernell asks how much, in the time lapsed, has really changed. Sami Blood is not an easy watch; it’s a necessary one.
Amanda Kernell’s pastoral period piece challenges a little-known social injustice in a fascinating way. A deeply respectful, yet upsettingly incendiary offering, Sami Blood is sure to make an impact when it lands. A very promising debut.
CAST: Lene Cecilia Sparrok, Mia Erika Sparrok, Maj-Doris Rimpi, Hanna Alström
DIRECTOR: Amanda Kernell
WRITER: Amanda Kernell
SYNOPSIS: Elle-Marja, 14, is a reindeer-breeding Sámi girl. Exposed to the racism of the 1930s and race biology examinations at her boarding school, she starts dreaming of another life. To achieve this other life, she has to become someone else and break all ties with her family and culture.