The Sámi are the indigenous people of Lappland, or Säpmi, in Northern Europe whose traditional languages are part of the Uralic language family (together with Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian). The majority of Sami Blood, Sameblod in Swedish, takes place during the 1930s in Northern Sweden at the height of scientific racism, ie, eugenics.
We are introduced to the character Elle-Marje (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) in the present day, a grandmother who returns home to attend her sister’s funeral with her son and granddaughter. It appears that she is Sámi but abhors her own culture, bitterly refusing to speak Sámi and calling her own people thieves and liars.
Skip back to the ’30s and we meet Elle-Marje as a 14-year-old girl living as a semi-nomadic reindeer herder with her mother and younger sister, Njenna, and attending boarding school with other Sami children. Their Swedish teacher punishes them severely for speaking their mother language, and the Swedes living near the school ogle the children like they are zoo animals. The Sámi children are treated like experimental subjects by visiting scientists. Their bodily dimensions are measured and they are forced to pose naked for scientific purposes. As a consequence of this, Elle-Marje begins to detest her own Sámi identity and we see the lengths she’ll go to in order to revoke her heritage, even inventing a new name for herself “Christina”.
The film has a brooding, dreary tone which never really lightens up and a very careful, thoughtful pacing that connects the viewer to the characters. Sparrok, who happens to be a Sámi reindeer herder in real life, delivers a phenomenal performance as a teenage girl seething with a quiet, seething rage and a pugnacious desire to reinvent herself. The treatment of the indigenous Sámi resonates strongly with how indigenous people were (and are still being) treated around the world. There are many parallels to the treatment of Indigenous Australians who were taken as children and forced to speak English and reject their own culture.
This is a powerful but perhaps too bleak film which sheds light on an important part of Nordic history that perhaps not all Westerners are familiar with.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars