Blog Directory CineVerse: The ties that bind

The ties that bind

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Amanda Kernell’s Sami Blood (2016), an absorbing portrait of a Swedish adolescent who yearns to hide her indigenous bloodline and assimilate into mainstream Swedish society, is a poignant cinematic treatise on racial and gender prejudice that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. Our CineVerse crew was impressed by the direction, thematic richness, and performances in this film. Here’s a synthesis of our conversation points (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What struck you as memorable, unanticipated, eye-opening, or rewarding about this movie?

  • The impact of this film relies heavily upon the performances of adolescent and child actors, which can be risky if you cast the wrong youngsters for the parts. But lead Lene Cecilia Sparrok and her younger sister Mia Erika Sparrok enthrall us with a credibility and authentic look that make us fully believe in their characters and their stories.
    • Variety critic Guy Lodge wrote: “It’s Sparrok’s quiet, searching debut performance that deserves substantial credit for “Sami Blood’s” delicately modulated tone. Blessed with a still gaze that can look hopefully defiant and utterly adrift all at once, she knots and loosens her body language according to who’s watching Elle-Marja, and how.”
  • The naturalistic cinematography, with many scenes shot in the picturesque outdoors of Sweden, is soul-stirring.
  • While the narrative presents disturbing sequences and uncomfortable, alienating situations involving Elle-Marja, there are also some welcome lighter moments and teenage rite-of-passage scenes that help our heroine feel normal and accepted.
  • The earlier scene where Elle-Marja cuts the reindeer’s ear serves as foreshadowing to a later scene where she is the victim of an ear-marking, suggesting that she and her people are considered as little more than wild animals by the higher-class Swedes.
  • The story is unquestionably told from Elle-Marja’s point of view and is subjectively sensitive to her experiences, as evidenced by the sudden percussive shrillness of the flashbulbs, the sound of the switch being used to whip her back, or the curious appearance and tactile sensation of the seminal fluid on her fingers.
  • The filmmakers aren’t being preachy or biased about Elle-Marja and her decision to leave her native people.
    • According to author Monica Mecsei: “Elle-Marja and her sister Njenna are in the same situation, but they make completely different choices. Elle-Marja desires to pass herself off as a “normal Swede” while Njenna is proud of her Sámi blood, refusing to make any changes. They are two typical attitudes toward the new culture. To be isolated, or to be assimilated? Sami Blood doesn't make value judgments on the options, but just presents the phenomenon to the audience. Neither of them is wrong or right. Young indigenous people face a self-identity crisis which was, is, and can be a universal problem all over the world.”

Major themes

  • The drawbacks of forgetting your roots, abandoning familial and cultural traditions, and denying your racial identity.
  • The subjugation and cultural denigration of a country’s indigenous peoples: a colonialist theme replete in world history.
  • The psychological scarring and damage caused by socially acceptable racism and discrimination.
  • Coming-of-age and the transition from childhood to adulthood, or at least from adolescence to young adulthood.
  • Rebellion and refusing to acquiesce to unjust societal norms.
  • A stranger in a strange land: Elle-Marja has gone AWOL and is determined to integrate within larger Swedish society, but she’s a fish out of water who can’t possibly blend in because of external bigotry and her lack of experience and resources.
  • The sting and shame of feeling like a lower-class social outcast and community pariah, and the extreme difficulties of attempting to climb the social ladder above your assumed class. This unresolved pain is symbolized by her mutilated ear, which bleeds afresh and festers throughout the film.

Similar works

  • The Cuckoo
  • Black Shack Alley
  • Carol’s Journey
  • Mustang
  • King Jack
  • Persepolis
  • I Am Not a Witch
  • The Magdalene Sisters
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence

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