‘Stolen’ 2024 Review: Netflix Film About Sweden’s Resilient Sami People Is Important But Boring


Regardless of which part of the world you are in, you’ll find the majority oppressing and ridiculing the minority in some way or another. And as if it’s not enough for the majority community to rob minorities of their resources, their land, and their rights, they will use the medium of entertainment to set a narrative that’ll promote discrimination and hatred via stereotypes and shoddy storytelling. Thankfully, the tide has begun to change, and there are not only stories about indigenous people, but there are also stories being told by indigenous people. Blood Quantum, Wild Indian, Killers of the Flower Moon, and Reservation Dogs are some of the examples that have come out of North America. India has produced Joram, Kaala Paani, and Newton. From Australia, we’ve gotten Where the Green Ants Dream, Samson & Delilah, and Rolf de Heer’s trilogy centered around David Gulpilil. And now we have a Swedish film centered around the Sami people called Stolen.

Elle Marja Eira’s Stolen, which is written by Peter Birro and based on Ann-Helen Laestadius’ book, is centered around a Sami family that is made of Elsa, Mattias, Nils Johan, Marika, and Ahkku. Much like the rest of their tribe, the family’s livelihood depends on reindeers. But someone is slaughtering and beheading them, and the police and society are doing nothing about it. Since it’s customary for every member of the Sami to earmark a reindeer, little Elsa chooses a white reindeer as the animal that she is borrowing from Mother Nature and names it Nastegallu. Things seem to be going fine until one fateful day, Elsa witnesses a man called Robert brutally murder Nastegallu and he walks away unscathed after committing such a crime. Years later, this practice continues to balloon, thereby endangering the Sami people, the reindeers, and the ecosystem of the village. And that’s basically what happens in a repetitive fashion all throughout the movie until it unceremoniously ends.

Stolen has an important story. It shows the lifestyle of the Sami people. We get to know about their culture, how they treat the environment, how they earn a living, what kind of rules and regulations they have, how they treat tourists, and more. We learn about how capitalism is eroding the landscape and killing its flora and fauna. We see the age-old battle of choosing development over preserving the roots of a place. We see racial lines being drawn across a small community and how kids and adults are being made to unlearn feelings of unity and diversity because that’s the only practice that majority communities all over the world have perfected. But the issue with the writing is that it seems like the film has just one very long act. I don’t know what the story structure of the book is, but it feels like Peter Birro just forgot to write the second and third acts of the movie. I guess he was trying to show how cyclical and relentless the act of oppressing minorities can be, and maybe the monotonous and uneventful nature of the story is the point. However, since each cycle of aggression doesn’t come with new information or a deeper look into the emotions coursing through the Sami people, the viewing experience becomes boring.

Stolen feels more like a nature documentary than a fictional drama. I think I would’ve preferred it if the movie was a straight-up nature documentary, because then I wouldn’t have to focus on the plot. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. There are hundreds of nature documentaries that shine a light on the delicate connection between the ecosystem of a place and the people that live there. They even have a narrative outline. And by the time you reach the end of the documentary, you feel more educated, knowledgeable, and mindful of the planet you live on than you did before you started watching the film. I can’t say the same about Elle Marja Eira’s work because, at the end of the day, this is not a nature documentary but a film that falls in the drama-thriller genre by its own admission. Along with cinematographer Ken Are Bongo and editor Kristofer Nordin, Elle successfully puts you in the icy landscape where a silent war is waging between Swedes and the Sami. It’s just that every time she has to craft a dialogue-heavy scene, the fault lines begin to appear. Eventually, those fault lines connect with each other and cause the whole film to crumble under the weight of its themes and commentary.

The performances from the whole cast of Stolen are not good. Elin Kristina Oskal is supposed to be this ball of angst, but it’s not really palpable. Martin Wallstrom is meant to stand out as the most toxic and vile member of a majority community made of toxic and vile people, but it’s very one note. Lars-Ante Wasara is there to support Oskal’s performance, but much like the character, he doesn’t give her anything to work with. Magnus Kuhmunen is pretty bland, to be honest. Anne Lajla Westerfjell Kalstad keeps coming in and out of the focus of the narrative, even though her character is supposed to hold her family together during such stressful times. Inger Gunhild Maria Tapio is there to offer some wisdom, and she does that job quite effectively. Pavva Pittja probably plays the most interesting character in the film. Charlotte Lindmark, Dakota Trancher Williams, Simon Issat Marainen, and Per Olof Nutti generated some form of hatred for their characters, and I suppose that’s a win. That said, I’m not sure if that was a result of their expressionless acting or if they were actually portraying the ineffectiveness of emotionless people occupying positions of authority. In my opinion, the best actor in the cast is Bittus, i.e., Mattias’ dog.

At the cost of sounding repetitive, Stolen is an important film. To be honest, I was unaware of the existence of the Sami people and the issues they have been facing. Sweden is always portrayed as this heavenly place where everything is awesome. This movie made me look into its history, geography, demography, politics, ecosystem, and the kind of future the country is heading towards. And I think that’s a good thing. Maybe if it wasn’t a feature film, I wouldn’t have been annoyed by it. But since it went in circles with its characters, themes, and story in the most unimpressive manner possible, I can’t bring myself to be positive about it. In the hands of a better filmmaker, this could’ve been great. However, this wasn’t it. Well, the best I can do is hope that this brings more attention to the Sami people and that we get more movies and shows centered around the indigenous folks of Sweden.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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