Filmmaker Jessica Oreck travels to the remote reaches of Finnish Lapland to capture a year in the life of the native herding community in this slight but surprisingly watchable film.
Screen depictions of reindeer hunting usually carry strong negative connotations, such as the treacherous undercurrent in Jägarna and the disturbing imagery in the Hannibal TV series. Here there’s less depth to what we are viewing, though there are some links unsuccessfully drawn between the slaughter and other aspects of the protagonists’ lives. Clearly there’s no strong agenda, such as an animal rights stance, and as a result the several attempted juxtapositions fall flat.
I was often reminded of the early Robert Flaherty documentaries, his ethnographic depictions of exotic cultures in distant locations. The difference is that the hardships highlighted in those films (whether legitimately or not; a debate for another article) are not present here – these are thoroughly modern cowboys, with all the necessary technology such as snowmobiles and lighters readily at their disposal.
The issue is the lack of conflict. Sometimes you sense the occasional isolation, contrasted with the communal nature of other aspects of the job, but when our subjects return home to their loving families those difficult periods seem thoroughly vindicated. Sure, there are cosier existences out there, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that desolate.
Still, their work is admirable and the spirit of the community is palpable. Perhaps it’s this aspect, the sense of team play and companionship, that makes it a satisfying watch. The difference between old and new is also effectively highlighted, though the sense of nostalgia for the past is perhaps underwritten. On first inspection you might expect the experience to drag, but at ninety-minutes it feels just about the right length.