With a face hardened by years of hurt, chain-smoking Lida carries the weight of a life defined by the shame and marginalization directed at her as a Sámi woman in contemporary Finland. Though strangers, she sets out alongside niece Sanna to clear out their long-held family home in preparation for its sale. Lida’s instinct to burn anything and everything connected to her past is quickly overcome by memories of a warm childhood spent fishing with a loving grandfather; of railing against the boarding school that tried to beat the Sámi identity out of her; and of being a young woman whose only option was a marriage that could take her far away from her Native roots. Lida finds herself facing a powerful reckoning with her past and a quiet reclaiming of her true self: Je’vida.
Stunning black-and-white cinematography beautifully captures a weary woman haunted by echoes of childhood. Lida reluctantly returns to her reclusive childhood home. Following the death of her estranged sister, her task to clear out the house for the new owner becomes complicated by the presence of her free-spirited and curious adult niece.
Director and co-writer (with Niillas Holmberg) Katja Gauriloff gives audiences a structure filled with flashbacks consisting of a youthful but trauma-laden home life, an abusive Christian school, and the death of those she held most dear. A third of the way through, we time jump to a young adult version of Lida where her innocence has spoiled. She becomes calculated and dispassionate, a defense mechanism for survival. Mixed with mesmerizing underwater shots and an elderly Lida quite literally burning her past, the film is visually breathtaking.
Young Je’Vida comes to life through the eyes of Agafia Niemenmaa. This personification of innocence is captivating against the stark quiet of Finnish snow and ice. She is a star. Sanna-Kaisa Palo gives present-day Lida a palpable lived-in trauma and definitive rage. Dismissive at the beginning, her healing journey comes with the shedding of shame and reclamation of identity through the next generation.
Another glorious achievement, JE’VIDA is the first ever to be filmed in the Skolt Sámi dialect, only spoken by roughly 300 people. Some of the most glorious moments come in coping mechanisms in the form of imagined conversations with Grandpa. He doles out wise words to soothe a wounded child. The idea of home comes full circle in the end. An emotional stunner, JE’VIDA is a meditation on shame and grief.