‘Stolen’ movie review: An indigenous manifesto

An adaptation of Ann-Helen Laestadius’ book, Stolen makes for an intense and timely watch. It narrates the struggle for survival of Sweden’s indigenous Sámi community. It speaks of how the livelihood of traditional reindeer-herders is at risk in the wake of climate change. If that wasn’t depressing enough, there’s also the matter of dealing with xenophobes and bigots, who spread fear and hatred. Elle Márjá Eira’s fantastic film is relevant now more than ever, where the existence of indigenous communities the world over are threatened, and their special/protected status called into question.

Robert Isaksson (Martin Wallström), the primary antagonist, complains about why the Sámi community must receive subsidies. It is a story of intolerance as old as time. Instead of attempting to understand the other, the film shows how one is taught to be wary and afraid of anyone that is different.

The young Elsa (Risten-Alida Siri Skum) learns these harsh truths at school. She is excluded because she is different. Her mind is set on becoming a reindeer herder, even as her father contemplates the future of their profession. Climate change threatens their survival, and he wonders if it’s wise for his daughter to venture into uncertainty. Despite the mounting challenges, she is eventually shown the ropes: how to wrangle the animals and mark calves to differentiate them from the herd. Then, we meet the adult Elsa (Elin Kristina Oskal), who continues to live as a reindeer-herder, even as animal killings become more rampant, threatening the community’s survival. The police categorises the dead animals as “stolen” as the carcasses remain untraceable.

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