(The Kautokeino Rebellion)

ROLE:  Preacher Lars Levi Læstadius

GENRE:  Historical drama

COUNTRY: Sweden/Norway/Denmark

NORWAY PREMIERE: January 18, 2008


For centuries the windswept mountain plateau of northern Scandinavia has been inhabited by the native Sami population and their reindeers. But modernisation is about to enter the desolate village of Kautokeino where the authority is held by the prosperous and ruthless liquor dealer Carl Johan Ruth.

However, alcoholism has become an evil force among many of the Sami tribesmen. Elen comes down from the mountain plateau to the general store to fetch her husband, Mathis. Ruth refuses to let Elen take the supplies Mathis has bought since Mathis has accrued a substantial drinking debt. Mathis is drunk and causes trouble. To make up for the debt, Ruth  has ten of Mathis and Elen's reindeer butchered. Elen packs her drunk husband into their sled and goes to the church in Karesuando where she hears charismatic preacher Laestadius (Michael Nyqvist), whose ministry is sweeping the Sami lands with fire-and-brimstone sermons decrying alcohol and vice. Mathis is converted and Elen becomes Laestadius’ proxy back home, emptying the bar and filling her revival tent. This action lights the fire in the hearts of the Sami resulting in their rebellion against the government.

Without a trial, Ruth manages to imprison most of Elen’s tribe, leaving Elen alone to take care of the reindeers. Elen gets help to set up a trial in which the men are released, but Ruth claims ownership of the tribe’s reindeers to cover the cost of the trial. Loosing the basis of their lives, Elen and her tribe have little choice but to oppose Ruth’s claim, leading to one of the most dramatic episodes in northern Scandinavian history.

Cast & Credit Details

Mikael Persbrandt - Carl Johan Ruth
Anni-Kristiina Juuso - Elen Aslaksdatter Skum
Mikkel Gaup as Aslak Hætta
Nils Peder Isaksen Gaup - Mons Somby
Michael Nyqvist - Lars Levi Læstadius
Jørgen Langhelle - Halmboe
Bjørn Sundquist - Pastor Stockfleth
Peter Andersson - Lars Johan Bucht
Silje Holtet - Anne Elise Blix
Eirik Junge Eliassen - Prästen Zetliz
Aslat Mahtte Gaup - Mathis Hætta
Inger Utsi - Inger Andersdatter Spein
Ole Nicklas Guttorm - Litle Aslak (son)
Inga Juuso - Grandmother
Beaska Niilas - Rasmus Spein
Jovsset Heandrat - Lars Hætta
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - Bishop Juell

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Director - Nils Gaup
Screenplay - Nils Isak Eira, Nils Gaup & Reidar Jönsson
Cinematography - Philip Øgaard
Music - Mari Boine, Svein Schultz & Herman Rundberg

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96 minutes

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Reel Norden: Nordic Film & History:

The film, The Kautokeino Rebellion, accurately depicts the uprising and gives the audience insight into this event from a Sami perspective. The film goes through many of the events that led up to the Rebellion. The main events that bring about the rebellion are the teachings of Laestadius and Kautokeino receiving a new minister.

This image depicts Elen meeting Laestadius for the first time. This is an important moment in the film because once Elen and the town turn towards Laestadianism, it provides an answer to the destructive alcoholic lifestyle.

The film begins by illustrating the prevalence of the drinking problem in the Sami village of Kautokeino. The central character of the film is Elen. Her husband Mathis is seen intoxicated at the general store of a non-Sámi merchant named Ruth, and Elen must take him away before he is beaten. The decision by director Nils Gaup to open the film in this way is crucial to prefacing the coming uprising. Following the incidents at Ruth's, Elen and her family traveled to the village of Karesuando to purchase supplies, where they also listened to Swedish revivalist pastor Lars Levi Laestadius preach.

Laestadius' teachings inspired a religious movement, known as Laestadianism, which focused on the forgiveness of sin and the betterment of the sinners. Followers of the Laestadian movement were expected to abstain from drinking alcohol. In the northern Lapland region, Laestadianism became a reaction to the growing alcohol abuse problem in the 1840s. Laestadianism preserved the Sami culture and identity through using the Sami language in religious services and legitimizing that living in poverty was not something to be ashamed of. Laestadians took pride in not owning more than what was necessary. The Sami culture clung to this movement because alcoholism had been quite destructive to their lifestyle, and Laestadianism provided an alternative.

Upon returning to Kautokeino, Elen began to hold meetings with the local people to spread the words of Laestadius and stop the heavy liquor consumption. The events leading up to the actual rebellion transpired similarly. The Sami held meetings in an attempt to awaken the people, which were largely successful as they led to a strong opposition by Ruth and his men. The film accurately depicts the exposure and subsequent spread of a new religious mindset in the village.

As depicted in The Kautokeino Rebellion, Niels V. Stockfleth is the minister that comes to Kautokeino by the request of Ruth. Before Stockfleth showed up there had been a minister who would come and go with only short, sporadic visits to preach to the people. During the time after Elen and her family came back to Kautokeino from Karesuando, she started to preach about what Laestadius was preaching. Since the new religion looked down on drinking liquor, Ruth's store continued to lose business. More and more Sami were converting to the Laestadianism that Elen was preaching.

The final scenes of the film illustrate the climax of the rebellion with the violent actions of the rebellious Sami group. On November 8, 1852, a group of Sami people rebelled and killed the local tradesman Carl Johan Ruth and the sheriff Lars Johan Bucht, and burned down the tradesman's house.

In real life, there were five people that were convicted, including Elen, and other Sámi community members named Aslak and Mons. Elen Aslaksdatter Skum was the first sentenced to death, but was granted remission to lifelong penal servitude. On October 14, 1854, Aslak Jakobsen Hætta and Mons Aslaksen Somby were executed by decapitation. The killings of Aslak and Mons were depicted correctly in the film, as the closing scene shows the two men being beheaded in a public setting.

Some historians have theorized that a few of the rebels of the Kautokeino Rebellion were mentally ill, and that was the reasoning for the violence. Other historians claim that the violence was a result of a misled religious interpretation of the teachings of Laestadius. Their interpretation of Laestadianism led the rebels to believe that they needed to "exorcise" the evil of alcoholism completely from their community by killing the merchant, Ruth, and his associates.

The movie incorporated the basic historical facts of the rebellion accurately. The names of the main characters involved are correct and the timeline of events during and after the uprising itself is accurate. The Kautokeino Rebellion did what it could to portray the event within the constraints of the media in which it was created. The film provided an insider's view of the uprising from a heretofore ignored Sami perspective and gave its audience insight into an event that occurred more that 150 years ago.