SIFF Double Feature – Sami Blood and A Date for Mad Mary
Sami Blood: My first exposure to the Sami people was in an issue of National Geographic Magazine when I was a kid; I was fascinated with their lives and would repeatedly scour the magazine for information. (I still have a copy somewhere in my house.) The Sami are an arctic indigenous people of Scandinavia (often called Laplanders), who – like many native peoples – have been subjected to marginalization and discrimination. Sami Blood tells the story of Elle Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) and her sister Njenna (Mia Erika Sparrok) who are sent to a Swedish-run Sami boarding school in the 1930s while their mother takes some time to recover from her husband’s death. The students are not only taught to speak Swedish, but are repeatedly told their own culture is inferior. Elle Marja is clever and wants to further her education but is informed it would never be allowed; Sami do not have the intelligence to succeed in the cities, and she would be better off herding reindeer with her family. She balks at this, and decides to take matters into her own hands. She heads off to the city of Uppsala to create a new life for herself, leaving behind all she knows, including her name.
This is a heartbreaking movie. It starts with Elle Marja as an old woman, now named Christina, who only comes back to her family for her sister’s funeral. Her son and granddaughter are excited to meet their Sami relatives, but Christina only has disgust with which to greet them. This is a story of internalized hatred, and it has some pretty rough moments in it; Elle Marja is tenacious and strong and is willing to make hard sacrifices for what she thinks is a better life. Director Amanda Kernell is Swedish-Sami and really manages to convey the indignities Sami children endured in Swedish boarding schools. But this film not only has something interesting and important to say, it’s beautifully made. It’s slowly paced, but not slow, if you get what I mean; it takes its time to tell its story, but never bores. I found parts of it difficult to watch, but I think that’s the way it should be. Highly recommended.
Sami Blood plays at the Majestic Bay on May 24th and at SIFF Cinema Uptown on May 31st.
Final Grade: A
A Date for Mad Mary: Directed by Darren Thornton, A Date for Mad Mary chronicles the release of Mary McArdle (Seána Kerslake) from a six-month stint in prison. Her best mate Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) is getting married, and Mary has just enough time to prepare to be her maid of honor. She is excited to hang out with her friend, but Charlene pulls away and spends more time with her other bridesmaid Leona (Siobhan Shanahan.) Mary is also taken aback by the bride’s refusal to grant her a plus one to the wedding on the grounds she would be unlikely to get anyone to go with her. Mary finds solace in alcohol and a matchmaking service, and proceeds to go on a series of blind dates, none of which work out for her; she’s not got the best people skills and her anger is quick to come to the surface. Tasked with paying the deposit to the wedding videographer, Mary meets photographer/singer/all-around-cool person-Jess (Tara Lee), and the two soon become friends. As things heat up with Jess and cool down with Charlene, Mary realizes she needs to get her shit together or she is never going to escape from her downward trajectory.
This is a really wonderful film. The humor is low key and the drama serious without being overwrought. It is a coming of age story, but one where the protagonist is thankfully not a mopey teen boy. Mary is an adult who finally learns that the world does not revolve around her pain and anger. (I think the best coming of age stories are when the main character learns that they are not the center of the universe and start accommodating the feelings and experiences of others. In real life, as in film, there are those who never learn this.) And while Mary and Jess do develop romantic feelings for each other, this is not a coming out story. Mary accepts her burgeoning attraction to Jess pretty matter-of-factly after an initial bit of awkwardness, and that is a lovely touch. It is not without consequence, but Mary is inspired to change by the possibility of being loved; the gender of who provides that possibility is immaterial. (I guess there could be a reading of this film where Mary is acting out because she has repressed lesbian feelings, but it didn’t feel that way to me.) I also liked how even though Charlene’s feelings about Mary are right on the nose, she’s still completely horrible. It’s well-written and acted, and if you are looking for something with real emotional depth, you should check this out.
A Date for Mad Mary plays at SIFF Cinema Egyptian on May 27th and Shoreline on May 28th.
Final Grade: A