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Radji review – moving depiction of Sami herders and their reindeer | Movies

The Indigenous Sami people have lived in Scandinavia for thousands of years, making a living from hunting, fishing and herding reindeer. This mild-mannered but often moving documentary charts one community’s fight to continue herding its reindeer along routes that have been used for generations. The film isn’t doing anything very new: it’s a classic David and Goliath story that pits its plucky Sami underdogs against a big, bad foe (in this case the Norwegian government); but it looks ravishing and is never less than completely engaging.

Much of the film is spent with herder Simon Marainen, a lonely figure who has taken over the family flock after his two brothers killed themselves and is now passing his skills down to his children. As summer looms, the Marainens’ reindeer migrate to Norway, then mooch back to Sweden for the winter. Herding them, it turns out, isn’t a Christmassy lark, but tough work for tough people, requiring stoutness in bad weather and serious physical strength. Yet it’s beautiful work, too, done on snowmobiles beneath huge pink skies that will make you yearn to jack in your old routines and find simpler ones.

The documentary’s narrow focus is an issue: lately, efforts have been made to recognise how appallingly Sami people have been treated, and including more of that context – the exhibition of Sami people in the 1800s at human zoos; the forced re-education, until disconcertingly recently, of Sami children at boarding schools – might have given the Marainens’ story more oomph. Still, being in their company feels like a rare privilege, and by the time the community finally gets a verdict in its legal battle to preserve its right to cross the Sweden-Norway border, this is a film that ensures you really care.

Radji is available on 3 March on True Story.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash