May 20, 2024

Stolen 2024 Movie Review

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Stolen 2024 Movie Review

We meet Elsa (Risten Alida Siri-Skum) when she’s nine years old, the age when Sami children get to pick out their own calf. As Elsa heads out to the herd, her grandmother reminds her of the old Sami adage that you never “own” a reindeer, they’re only “on loan.” She picks out a pretty white calf and names it Nastegallu – then watches in horror weeks later as a man, Isaksson (Martin Wallstrom), snowmobiles into the middle of the herd, drags down her beloved deer and slits its throat. He sees Elsa watching, and threatens her with the same fate. When she and her father take the matter to the police to file a complaint, she sees Isaksson palling around with the cops. And she clams up. For 10 years.

The adult Elsa (Elin Kristina Oskal) is now a schoolteacher, but remains devoted to helping her family with the herd. The poaching has continued, and the cops remain indifferent. One day she and her brother Mattias (Lars-Ante Wasara) snowmobile out to tend the herd, and find the heads of slaughtered deer. They follow snowmobile tracks and a blood trail back to Isaksson’s property and call the police, who show a little concern but ultimately end up in Isaksson’s kitchen, sipping tea with him. Elsa’s blood boils, and if you have a heart at all, so does yours. And it’ll lift a little bit when she angrily stomps into police headquarters and slams the reindeer heads on the table – even though she knows it’s going to stir trouble. But as the wise man once said, this is “good trouble.”

Meanwhile, Sami leaders and Swedes attend a city council meeting. Businessmen want to put a massive mining operation smack in the middle of the grazing land. It’ll have a significant negative impact on the reindeer herds, but the Samis’ concerns are met with the usual retorts about job creation and economic impact – all stuff that everyone who isn’t Sami values over the autonomy and way of life of an ancient people. Elsa stands up: “Do we just lie down and die?” she shouts. Her frustration has boiled over. She’s angering her father and Sami leadership, who opt for toothless diplomacy, fearing retaliation. The game is rigged against them.

Isaksson sneers down at them from his privileged position; he resents the Sami for getting government subsidies and control of the grazing lands while he has to work for everything he’s got. Like a true, dyed-in-the-wool racist, he refers to the Sami by using hurtful, pejorative terms. Elsa dreams of going to university and arming herself with the knowledge and authority to improve the Samis’ way of life, but that doesn’t solve the immediate problem. She goes out for a drink with her old friend Lasse (Pavva Pittja), a gentle soul who’s fallen into despair. “We can’t give up, Lasse,” she says. And she doesn’t seem like the type to give up. She loved Nastegallu, and she’s not over him. Not in the least.

Don’t buy Netflix’s “she vows revenge” description, and the poster shot of Elsa marching toward the camera with a rifle, as an accurate reflection of this film: Elsa’s story is not John Wick slaughtering the creeps who killed his dog. Rather, Stolen is a knotty and complex drama laced with suspenseful realism and the occasional heart-racing moment — say, a realistically rendered snowmobile chase, or a fraught home-invasion sequence. The Samis’ plight mirrors that of Inuits, American Indians, the Maori and other peoples forced to assimilate into capitalist cultures, and Aira and screenwriter Peter Birro root the story in the tension between gross injustice and the idea that any notable response to racism only escalates the conflict. Its realism is convincing, and therefore upsetting.

Aira shows an acumen behind the camera that belies her status as a rookie filmmaker: Gorgeous shots of subarctic scenery merge seamlessly into a no-nonsense visual approach to Elsa’s daily life. The performances are consistently strong, making the most of the screenplay’s rich forays into character development (especially noteworthy are Mattias’ and Lasse’s struggles with mental illness, which reflect the anguish of their community). She quietly integrates bits of Sami culture into the fabric of the narrative, as well as the generational effects of their hopes and struggles. Maybe the primary superficial conflict comes to too easy a conclusion, but by no means do we watch the credits roll and believe that all of Elsa’s and the Samis’ problems are solved. If Aira’s point is to raise awareness about the evils of systemic oppression, consider it done with conviction.

Stolen 2024 Movie Review