A black-and-white gem, Katja Gauriloff’s Je’vida is an emotional portrait of a woman unwittingly confronting the past she struggled to bury after abandoning her family and community decades earlier.
Burdened by her past, Iida (Sanna-Kaisa Palo) journeys back to the far north of Finland to her childhood home. She’s joined by her artist niece Sanna (Seidi Haarla) — whom she barely knows — as the related but distant pair are tasked with clearing out the small house of Iida’s estranged elderly mother who recently died.
Harbouring a barely concealed rage, Iida burns all personal items found in the tiny home, actively rejecting any sentimentality attached to her childhood and family, much to Sanna’s horror. Despite her best efforts, Iida’s past will not be contained and she’s soon overcome by the memories she has been suppressing.
As if from an alternate reality, her story unfolds. We learn that Iida was born Je’vida (Agafia Niemenmaa) to a loving and traditional Skolt Sámi family. Her younger years were spent surrounded by her family, culture, and language; an existence unrecognizable in Iida’s gloomy adult life where she passes solely as Finnish. Je’vida’s reality was shattered when she was forced to attend a state-run residential school for Indigenous children.
As a young adult, scarred by her experiences and wanting escape, Je’vida (Heidi Juliana Gauriloff) calculatingly walked away from her Sámi life and family to begin anew as Iida in Helsinki, thinking she’d never return.
Through the black-and-white film’s three distinct storylines, director and co-writer Katja Gauriloff has crafted an intimate, emotional study of the devastating impact of the loss of culture and identity. Gauriloff’s portrait of a woman reluctantly confronting her history (the first feature film in the Skolt Sámi language, which is now spoken by only a few hundred people) is a testament to the resilience of the bonds of ancestry.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival