Let the River Flow [Ellos eatnu — La elva leve] — Scandinavian Film Festival 2023

Review by John P. Harvey.

It is 1979, in the Norwegian town of Alta.  Ester (Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen), a young Sámi woman, teaches at an average Norwegian high school where she keeps her ethnic and cultural identity secret in order to maintain good relations with her colleagues.  Sámi, often treated as inferior, are subject to considerable ridicule for their culture, language, and traditions.  Seeking to avoid this, Ester quietly fits in at work.

Ester’s cousin Mihkkal (Gard Elvenes), by contrast, wears his flamboyant traditional costume with fierce pride and participates in protests against the possible inundation of a Sámi town with the planned damming of the Atla River, vital to Sámi livelihood in the area.

Ester doesn’t want to become involved in political or social upheaval, but her perception undergoes a revolution once Mihkkal takes her to a protest camp, where she begins to understand that the protest concerns not only environmental destruction and cultural repression but an existential threat to the Sámi as people.  And from here Ester forms a growing commitment to the cause, in spite of the discrimination she will face at work.

A moving, intimately filmed, gentle tale of the human heart based on a historic stand in 1979 for Sámi and environmental preservation, Let the River Flow speaks to us of reason in the face of presumption, courage in the face of despair, and the power of common cause to transcend conflict.  In her debut feature film, Isaksen gives us a character whose very quietness, at first appearing merely to shield her from outside perception, steadily reveals itself as the foundation of her ability to listen and increasingly to stand firm.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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