Amanda Kernell's scrupulously shaped coming-of-rage drama opens with Christina (Maj-Doris Rimpi), an elderly woman wearing sparkling pearls and a pitiless countenance, turning bitterly obstinate when taken back to the Lapland of her birth for her sister's funeral. She'll speak to no one, vows not to stay the night, and has zero tolerance for displays of yoik, the local throat singing.
Then we flash back eight decades. Sami Blood plunges into the origins of that anger, examining with rare anthropological acuity the abuse of the indigenous Sami people of northernmost Europe -- "the filthy Lapps," we hear a blond boy spit as young Christina (now named Elle-Marja and played by Lene Cecilia Sparrok) troops through the woods with her schoolmates. Writer-director Kernell expertly tracks Elle-Marja's adolescent development and her realization that, no matter her intelligence or aptitude, Sweden offers nothing to a Sami.
At a girls' boarding school, Elle-Marja is mistreated and condescended to. The most wrenching scene concerns the examination of the Sami girls by an ethnographic quack: He measures their skulls like he's judging produce at a fair, and then demands that they pose nude for photographs. It's Elle-Marja who must disrobe first, and it's in Sparrok's tearful, terrified defiance that we first see the anger that will give her the will to escape.
Matter-of-fact in its scenecraft but searing in its content, Sami Blood is about girlhood and racism, passing and escape. It's also about guilt, about the toll taken on a life of rejecting one's minority origins in accordance with (and in defiance of) the majority's unjust prejudice. Kernell and her prodigiously talented lead make Elle-Marja's hardest decision both a terrible surprise and a clear inevitability.