Sami Blood

05 Apr 2017

The Swedish film Sameblod ('Sami Blood') is one of those films which both pierces you with its pain and takes away your breath with its beauty.

It tells the story of a 14 year old girl from the Sami people - the indigenous people of northern Europe. Set in the 1930s, Elle-Marja is sent with her sister to a 'Swedish' boarding school for Sami children, designed to 'integrate' them into mainstream Swedish culture. They are forbidden from speaking their mother tongue but paradoxically forced to wear their traditional Sami clothing. The children are literally cowed into submission. One of the most poignant images is of the little troop walking along the road with their heads bowed.

They suffer humiliation and ridicule from the local Swedes, and in Elle-Marja's case even worse. She is set upon by a group of young men who cut her ear in the manner that the Sami mark the ears of their reindeer to identify ownership. It is a poignant symbol.

Elle-Marja is a feisty, rebellious young woman who wants to get on in life. She resolves to run away from the school, and from her Sami identity, to try and make her way in mainstream Swedish society. She burns her Sami dress and tries to find a new life in Uppsala. But she has no money to study and cannot find someone to borrow from. Eventually she returns to her family, nomadic reindeer keepers, and her mother, realising that she cannot hold Elle-Marja back, gives her the valuable silver belt of her late father to get her started.

We don't know what happens between this moment and the present day scenes which start and end the film. There we see the now elderly Elle-Marja, still denying her Sami identity but clearly also ashamed that she does so.

It is fundamentally a sad film. Her story echoes the story of so many indigenous people around the world whose traditions and very lifestyles were decimated by the majority race. Think Aboriginals in Australia or native Americans in the US. With the coming of the modern Swedish state, the Sami lost land, rights and much else. 

There are many themes in this film. The power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. The ruthlessness of an oppressor race which viewed another race as an object of curiosity, an inferior species to study (one of the film's most painful scenes is when the children are measured and photographed for scientific analysis).

Most tragic is that a girl like Elle-Marja was forced to choose between her identity as a Sami, and her determination to make something of her life.

Fortunately much has changed for the better since the 1930s. But here in Sweden many are still ignorant about the Sami people, and Sami friends say they are still subject to racism.

This film comes highly recommended. It is beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted. See it if you can.

[Official website: https://www.levelk.dk/films/sami-blood/3029]

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