A still from the film 'Stolen'
A still from the film 'Stolen'

'Stolen' movie review: An indigenous manifesto

Stolen is real, visceral, and sometimes, more than one can handle. Apart from being a thought-provoking film, it is also shot gorgeously.

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.

The makers have created a hard-hitting film that doesn’t get preachy. It is a story of discrimination that is first seen from the eyes of an intelligent child, and then a perceptive adult. Stolen delves not just into indigenous rights but gender too. Elsa speaks up about the issues faced by her people even as the Sámi community leaders choose to stay diplomatic. Her outspoken nature is declared the reason for the hatred inflicted on the Sámi people. Even her father disapproves of her idea of justice.

Stolen is real, visceral, and sometimes, more than one can handle. Apart from being a thought-provoking film, it is also shot gorgeously. Cinematographer Ken Are Bongo’s frames are something to behold. With an earnest and convincing tone, the film makes a case for the need to value the lives of indigenous people across the globe, and it’s hard for us viewers to disagree. 

Stolen

Director: Elle Márjá Eira

Genre: Drama

Platform: Netflix

Language: English

Rating: 3.5/5

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