“Stöld”, the Sami thriller available on Netflix | Polarjournal
Vengeance in Sami country. Young Elsa, played by Elin Kristina Oskal, is determined to settle a personal score with a reindeer killer. Between sublime landscapes and snowmobile chases, the film tackles head-on the difficulties faced by the Sami people. Photo : Netflix

Based on a best-selling novel, Stöld finally hits the screens. Available since April on Netflix, this Sami production tells the story of a young woman who stands up against violence and discrimination against her people.

Elsa is nine years old. She lives with her reindeer-herding parents, brother and grandmother in Swedish Lapland. In keeping with Sami traditions, Elsa is given a little white reindeer, which she christens Nástegallu. With his pretty star-shaped spot on his forehead, the fawn becomes the object of affection for the little girl, who spoils him with a profusion of lichens, despite her father’s affectionate admonitions.

The picture could have been idyllic for a childhood that could have been peaceful between school, reindeer and ski trips in the snowy forests of Lapland. But there’s a shadow in the picture, and it takes the form of a reindeer killer.

For some time now, the mutilated corpses of reindeer have been piling up, and herders have watched helplessly. Complaints to the police have come to nothing, and the authorities have done little to protect the herds on which the Sami depend. One day, on her way alone to the paddock, Elsa witnesses Nástegallu’s brutal killing and recognizes the criminal. Threatened and frightened by the killer, the little girl has no choice but to keep his identity a secret from her parents and the police.

According to Sami tradition, when children reach a certain age, they are given responsibility for a young reindeer. For Elsa (here played by Risten Alida Siri-Skum), it will be Nástegallu, whose name means “white spot” in Sami. Photo : Netflix

But children grow up, and ten years later we find Elsa. All grown up, she has become a teacher at the local school and divides her time between teaching in Sami and reindeer breeding. Discrimination and threats against Sami people have continued unabated, as have the murders of reindeer treated as cattle rustling by police authorities still in no hurry to intervene, even though the perpetrator is well known. Swede through and through, Robert’s character has a boundless hatred of the Sami and sadistically attacks their herds, hoping to see them disappear from a territory he considers rightfully his. Faced with this dark figure, the reluctance of her peers to act and the indifference of the authorities, Elsa, consumed with rage, dares to speak out against the discrimination and violence directed against her people and her culture.

Released on Netflix on April 12, the film has been a big hit on the platform ever since, and it’s easy to see why. With a Sami cast and crew, Stöld highlights the problems faced by Europe’s last Indigenous people. Discrimination and xenophobia combine with the challenges posed by global warming, which is reducing the reindeer’s natural habitat, and by the exploitation of mining resources, which threatens the Sami.

Alternating with breathtakingly beautiful images shot mainly in Swedish and Norwegian Lapland, the daily hardships of the reindeer people are narrated, with alcoholism, suicide and a lack of prospects eating away at a community whose future seems uncertain.

Based directly on the 2021 novel of the same name, the film was directed by Saami director Elle Márjá Eira and the screenplay co-written by Ann-Helén Laestadius, whose book has already met with huge public and critical success and won numerous awards. A filmographic and bibliographic work to be discovered as a matter of urgency.

Film: Stöld by Elle Márjá Eira, with Elin Oskal, Magnus Kuhmunen, Dakota Trancher Williams, Martin Wallström, Sweden, 2024, 105 minutes. Available on Netflix in VOST (northern Sami) and in several translated versions.

Book: Ann-Helén Laestadius, Stolen, Scribner, 2023, ISBN 13: 9781668007167

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal AG

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