“MELLOW MUD” (“Es esmu šeit”)— Coming-of-Age in Latvia

“MELLOW MUD” (“Es esmu šeit”)

Coming-of-Age in Latvia

Amos Lassen

Extremely harsh circumstances force a resourceful and determined Latvian teen to mature beyond her years in “Mellow Mud” from first-time feature director-writer Renars Vimba. 

After the death of their father and emigration of their mother to England to find work, 17-year-old Raya (Elina Vaska) and her younger brother, Robis (Andzejs Janis Lilientals), are forced to share a seedy rural cottage with their paternal grandmother (Ruta Birgere), whom they hate. When Raya returns from school one day, she finds their grandmother dead and she and her brother bury her in the garden to avoid the local social worker who has been snooping about so that the family can go about their lives as if nothing has happened. The when a high school English competition promising a trip to London for the finalists provides hope for Raya to escape her desperate situation and maybe even help them find her mother, she makes a series of decisions that bring her to a crossroad.

 “Mellow Mud”  won the Crystal Bear for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as numerous awards at the Latvian National Film Festival, including Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Cinematography and Best Director.    

Set in the Latvian outback, this is, in many ways, a conventional coming-of-age story about two school-age siblings who are left to be raised by their unwilling grandmother when their mother emigrates to London. However, the rules they break to cope with their situation are both understandable and relatable, even with the consequences they could face.

Raja Kalniņa, in her final year of high school suddenly has the responsibility of taking care of her young brother, Robis when their mother leaves, their father has died, and their grandmother and guardian, Olga, also dies. t Raja looks for a way to rid herself of this burden, and although she cleans the house and cooks for Robis, she also has her eye on an English-language competition that would send her to London for a week.

She ultimately has to take back control of her life yet it seems that everything is happening of its own accord and at its own pace.Two important relationships shape the rest of the plot. The first is the one with Robis, whose frustration with the living situation gradually leads to him engaging in activities he is not ready for and he commits petty crimes and refuses to listen to his sister, who has taken on the role of substitute mother. This relationship moves back-and-forth between playful and abrasive and the domestic situation is strained but intimate, creating empathy in the viewer.

The other relationship is with Raja’s handsome young English teacher (Edgars Samītis), who has moved to the countryside from Riga for reasons never made clear, but we assume that he was looking for an escape himself. Although he has no idea about Raja’s true intentions about London, he is amazed and captivated by her skills in English despite her having missed numerous lessons over the past year. He is slowly drawn to her.

We are always aware of Raja’s resistance against being forgotten by those around her. She is a teenagerwho actually behaves like a relatable human being and gets our empathy not by being completely authentic.

This is an intimate and lyrical character study of an adolescent girl struggling with multiple pressures, from family abandonment issues to budding sexual urges. It is also a delicate drama about an often anguished time of life.

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