Elina: As if I Wasn’t There

Niels Strandskov

TDir. Klaus Härö

Those Finns can be pretty hard-headed. The same stubbornness that served Minnesota well in the battles to organize the Range leads to trouble for the title character in “Elina: As if I wasn’t there” a schoolgirl in 1950s Sweden.

Elina (Natalie Minnevik) is part of the Finnish minority in Sweden, and her village in Lappland is full of poor Finns and imperious Swedes. Her father is dead, her mother, with two other daughters and a small farm to look after, is harried, and Elina just wants to spend time in the forests and bogs. Elina’s main nemesis is Tora Holm (Bibi Andersson), principal of the local elementary school and the teacher of Elina and her sister’s class. Elina, who’s recovering from tuberculosis, gets into a battle of wills with Tora, and starts refusing to eat her hot lunch.

Stakes are higher than they immediately appear, since Elina’s mother depends on Tora for her job cleaning the school as well as occasional handouts. Tora sees her position as an essential beachhead for the civilizing influence of Swedish culture on the barbaric Finns.

Director Klaus Härö conveys the rhythms of village life and sub-arctic nature adeptly. This is an environment where everything stops when a strange car comes to town or a calf gets stuck in the bog. At the same time, we follow Elina to the bog again and again, where the pines and birch move in the breeze with a timelessness which makes even sleepy village life look rapid and ephemeral. When Elina and the other children wander among the birches in the forest, their ghostly pale skin suggests that they are really forest sprites.

“Elina” is equally interesting as a study in ethnic conflict and resolution, a portrait of strong women and a paean to the ethereal beauty of the boreal forest.