One of the things that, although common, never ceases to surprise me is seeing in reality and in fiction that the police presence never means anything good. Impressive especially when one of them then asks for understanding and empathy because they suffer a lot from repressing you. And it’s not that Let the River Flow is about how the police act as the crucible of fascism even in democracies, but in the end I end up wondering why so many people are clear that all politicians are the same but they don’t comment on police violence or its ability to normalize beatings, shooting rubber balls or evictions of 80-year-old women?
Based on real events that took place between 1979 and 1981, Let the River Flow tells the story of a young woman named Ester who, after getting a temporary job as a teacher in Alta (northern Norway), reunites with her family and its most repressed origins. Because, despite being Norwegian in terms of papers and passport, Ester is Sami, an ethnic group that has lived in Lapland “all their life.”
From an undeniably Nordic coldness, with a slight grain that takes us to past decades, the Norwegian director and screenwriter Ole Giæver manages to transport us to the late 70s with a visual fidelity that surprises with static, aesthetics and, above all, a calm and peaceful rhythm that does not clash with the development of the plot nor does it prevent you from getting bored. Because, like a good Nordic film, the greater the coldness shown, the hotter what it hides.
like a good Nordic film, the greater the coldness shown, the hotter what it hides
In this case, and despite the lack of historical context, that icy ardor is perfectly reflected in the figure of Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen—Sami actress and singer—with a contained acting work that grows in intensity from the flat to something much more unwrapped. Aware that her character is trying to hide her Sami identity during the first act of the film, while she rediscovers what it means for her to be Sami and must face a more collective struggle that aims to prevent the destruction of the homes of the Sami people. All this while suffering the humiliating treatment of a bunch of extremely educated “racistoids”.
Reading a little around there, I have learned that what Let the River Flow tells was a fundamental event because it represented a turning point in the Norwegian government’s policies that affected the Sami and other Nordic indigenous peoples, who for years were victims of quite forced “Norwegianization” policies. This is something that can be seen in the film in the role of Ester’s mother, who, in addition to eliminating that part of her identity, has suffered a violent and aggressive upbringing to subdue any attempt or possibility of wanting to get her back.
However, in the development everything changes with the arrival of Mihkkal, Ester’s cousin and the only character who does not want to be assimilated as Norwegian and feels proud to be Sami in mind and way of dressing. It is with him that Ester demonstrates against the government’s plans to build a dam that will isolate the Sami settlement from the river, incorporating elements related to this indigenous people into the story and confronting them with capitalism that ignores any idea close to the environmentalism or that crushes any positive human value with the weight of money and the dehumanization of what is different.
an intense psychological description of a people wounded by showing their own culture and distinctive character, a strange poetic language and a unique pre-modern nomadic lifestyle
Hence the title of the film. Let the River Flow is at once a historical account of a national ford, because the issue of the dam became a “this far” for the Sami, and an intense psychological description of a people wounded by showing their own culture and distinctive character, a strange poetic language and a unique pre-modern nomadic lifestyle. At the same time, not only the brutalizing prejudices of the civilized environment are drawn, but also the late modern problems of an ethnic minority in today’s society.
It is a very interesting topic and one that, told as it is told, silently shows the complexity of those who want to be and be, forced to confront the desire to be like other Norwegians, part of a whole, of a unified nation, and at the same time to want to be what they are in mind and way of life (and to understand it). Hence Let the River Flow is dramatic in its objective, indignation and setting, but never really melodramatic, demonizing and antagonistic towards the parties involved.
Which does not mean that I, as a viewer, have not decided to demonize various characters or “collectives.” Because I don’t care if the Norwegian police act against the protesters with caution and discipline or if nothing is considered black and white. It is inevitable that you will take sides, that you will see Norway’s nationalists as the guilty ones and the ones who should bear the shame. Because sometimes we accept that ethnic cleansing is not such because it took place more than 100 years ago (in this case it seems that it began in the 19th century, with the birth of Norwegian nationalism), but in the most present attitudes it continues to border on ‹apartheid›, or at least that’s what it seems to have been if you start reading other stories about encounters with the northern Nordic peoples who live across the borders of Sweden, Norway and Finland.
Ole Giæver himself has Sami ancestry, which perhaps makes the experience even more personal and stimulating
Once again reading around, I have seen that Ole Giæver himself has Sami ancestry, which perhaps makes the experience even more personal and stimulating, since the narrative engine of the film is in how one is aware of the Sami history and sense of identity, alternating between self-deprecation and self-affirmation, but never becoming excessive.
I watched and rated Let the River Flow on Tuesday Feb 6, 2024.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.