Raya (Elina Vaska) has an acrimonious relationship with her paternal grandmother Olga (Ruta Birgere). That is because Olga wants to sell off their property. The sale would leave the 17-year-old rural dwelling Latvian protagonist almost homeless.
She’s also practically raising her little brother Robis (Andrejz Lilentals). A social worker (Zane Jancevska) gives the kids have a choice. Legally, either they stay with Olga or go to an orphanage.
Orphanages are a kind of place that’s tough anywhere. But one day, Raya finds Olga dead. That makes one of her living options certain unless she delays it with something drastic. “Bring the wheelbarrow,” she tells Robis.
Mellow Mud, despite occasionally bordering on poverty porn, shows off determination out of desperation. It’s the kind of resilience that Vaska is more than capable of evoking. Let’s not forget that on top of all of this, she’s going to school.
She also tells Robis that both of them have to be the best version of themselves, both behaviour-wise and academically. It’s a high stakes game that the film plays low. Raya has to beg, borrow, and steal to support herself and Robis.
Onene of the few things keeping Raya alive is a hope of a mother who lives in England. She wants to convince her mother to return home to save the latter’s children. She decides, then, that the best way to do that is to enter an English-speaking contest in her school. Any other movie would have overplayed this plot point.
But this is not that kind of movie, and again. Its choice to underplay this and to treat all plot points equally works well for the most part. Raya spends a lot of time convincing people to do her will. And watching her do so is one of the film’s few delights.