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The movie Stolen (2024) is an obvious drama that could have been a docudrama about reindeer. I don’t think it’s very good as fiction because it gets boring, but if you’re into really niche stuff, it does make for quite an interesting read.

This Netflix drama—known as Stöld in its original Swedish title—is the feature directorial debut of Elle Márjá Eira. Adapted from Ann-Helén Laestadius’ novel of the same name and filmed on location in Sweden, the film follows a young Sámi woman fighting against constant attacks on her family’s reindeer by neighboring villagers. Yet it seems more interested in delivering a message than telling a story.

When she was nine years old, Elsa (Elin Kristina Oskal) watched her neighbor Robert Isaksson (Martin Wallström) kill her favorite reindeer. She never told anyone what she knew; she didn’t even identify him when her father took her to give a police statement. A decade later, Elsa still works with her father and brother, Mattias, as they herd reindeer together.

Following in her father’s footsteps has always been Elsa’s dream. But given recent events—the rise in anti-Sámi sentiment around the area and attacks on their animals coinciding with the opening of a new mine—the family now questions whether to stay and continue raising reindeer. For them, the mine represents jobs and economic growth; for Sámi people like them, however, it threatens their animal welfare.

Police rarely investigate these killings at all; they just file reports stating that some animals are “stolen.” The local community accuses the Sámi of killing their own reindeer so they can claim compensation from the state government. In this climate of suspicion and hostility, Elsa blames herself for not reporting Robert to the police all those years ago—and stops at nothing to make sure his latest crime is uncovered. Yet her determination to speak up for her community only risks further endangering it.

Stolen is an often beautiful drama that takes place in the snow-covered mountains of northern Sweden; it frequently shows us stunning shots of these landscapes and the northern lights. It also provides scenes of reindeer herding with all the explanatory detail you might expect from a nature documentary.

Furthering its educational aims, the film has characters casually discussing various aspects of Sámi community hierarchies, history and present struggles throughout. I found this fascinating, but it does sometimes feel like being lectured at without enough actual story to engage with onscreen.

As characters, Elsa and Mattias exist purely as mouthpieces for their people’s concerns—they have no real personal motives or goals beyond representing a broader political standpoint about reindeer herding, which they argue among themselves and with others. The script keeps making the same points over and over again.

Robert is meant to be this big bad villain guy but he just goes around repeating what every other villager says about hating on Samis while not actually doing anything evil himself so after a while I stopped listening—how many times can one person complain about ice fishing or the snowmobile ban? It’s not very interesting storytelling and comes across as preachy.

As far as works of fiction go, I can’t suggest this one. What you will get a lot of from Stolen, though, is learning about reindeer herding and the difficulties faced by the Sámi people; so in that sense it’s educational.

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