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24 September 2014
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Henna's Song

Henna's Song reviewed by Lindsay Aitkenhead

Henna's Song is a short film about 14 year-old girl who lives in the northernmost corner of Finnish Lapland. But Henna and her family are not Finns, they belong to the Sámi people who travelled to Finland from Russia hundreds of years ago and speak their own language, which is called Skolt. The Sámi have a form of folk song which they call Leu’dd.

It is a very special form of song as it contains the stories and history of the Sámi people. Henna's grandparents sing Leu’dd, in fact every one of their generation did. But Henna's parents didn't: the Skolt language was banned for many years and singing Leu’dd went out of fashion.

start quoteThis film had interesting subject matter, but somehow the point was lost along the wayend quote
Reviewer Lindsay Aitkenhead

Nowadays culture is a tourist commodity. Coachloads of tourists from Norway, the rest of Europe and America travel to Lapland to eat reindeer soup inside a reindeer skin tent, served by Sámi people dressed in their traditional costume who sing Leu’dd.

Henna’s Grandma talks of the tourists quite fondly. She says that it's nice to keep in touch with the rest of the world, even though she thinks that the tourists are terribly old-fashioned because they walk around in the snow with only two sticks to help them, whereas the technologically advanced Sámi travel by snow-mobile! Servicing the tourists is not such a bad way to earn a crust after all.

Henna's Song
Henna: the documentary is all about her, so why do we not hear her speak?

Henna herself is a very unusual adolescent in that she is learning to sing Leu’dd in the traditional manner, and is a great attraction with the tourists. In every other respect she is a normal teenager: we see her at school, dancing at a disco, riding a bicycle and driving her snow-mobile. However throughout the film the only time we hear her voice is when she sings. The film is narrated by her grandparents, and by the end I was itching to know what Henna thought about it all (in particular the corpulent American tourists).

She also only sings one song. We see her learning this, then singing it in the reindeer skin tent and finally we hear it with a slick studio produced, "world music" backing. Does this mean that she only knows one song? Or was this song chosen to make the film musically coherent?

The other background music was dark and moody, suggesting menace although there was no menace apparent in the content or the plot. It felt as if this film had interesting subject matter but somehow the point was lost along the way. Or maybe it was me who missed the point. And why wasn't the girl allowed to speak?

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