TIFF 2023 | The Tundra Within Me (Sara Margrethe Oskal, Norway) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall

On her trip home to the northern village of Sápmi, Lena’s (Risten Anine Kvernmo Gaup) bus nearly hits a deer. This isn’t an unusual occurrence for the Sami community, whose relationship with reindeer is fundamental to their culture, but Lena notices the reindeer’s herder, Mahtte (Nils Ailu Kemi), for the first time. The reindeer runs off and the bus continues its route, but a connection between the two has been made.

Lena and her son have left Oslo for her childhood home, so that she can work on a project about female reindeer herders. She’s not met with a warm welcome, with her mother disappointed by her life choices and for having left the Sami culture, and the locals wary of Lena, who has a reputation within the community. Even amongst other Sami artists, Lena’s work is misunderstood, dismissed as being deliberately controversial. As she struggles to settle in, she catches the eye of Mahtte while performing a traditional Sami joik. Mahtte, meanwhile, is deeply ingrained in Sami culture, to the point that he has to fight with his own mother for control of his herd and his legacy. Both adult children must wrestle against their overbearing mothers as well as the traditions they uphold; while feeling out their places in their community,they turn to each other, and a romance begins.  

The Tundra Within Me is Sami filmmaker Sara Margrethe Oskal’s first feature, and comes together as a delicate look at a new generation trying to find belonging within old traditions. The tundra of Norway in Oskal’s eye is not barren, but full of life and possibility, if you have the right kind of care. The way the reindeer are captured and herded, how their meat and pelts are prepared, each act is explored as being full of its own meaning. As such, the romance here is not just between Lena and Mahtte, but between two people and their culture; in the end, when given the opportunity, they adapt, guaranteeing some kind of ever after.

mwall@cinema-scope.com Wall Madeleine