The Middle Child

Sisters (Masas)
Stars: Emma Skirmante, Gerda Aliena, Katrina Kreslina and Iveta Pole
Director/Scriptwriter: Linda Olte
Composer: Federico Campana
Cinematographer: Aleksandrs Grebnevs
Trickster Pictures/Deep Sea Studios
Not Rated but has profanity and themed material
Running Length: 104 Minutes
Language: English and Latvian with subtitles

If there is a family with three children or more, the middle child is expected to be the problem child. Older sibling is the pride and joy, second child the unexpected and the third child, an after-thought. In “Sisters” Director/Scriptwriter Linda Olte gives us the viewpoint of a middle child in a trio of girls. The setting is Latvia and begins with children, for one reason or another, given by their parents to the state. There, they are provided with food, clothing, schooling, but eventually, they must leave. The center piece in this film is Anastasia (a thoughfully acted Emma Skirmante) who is thirteen years old, and doesn’t know how to live her life yet. This is no purpose as she can see, and poverty is always in the background.

The story begins with a girl on a skateboard releasing dogs from a city kennel. If she is free, they can be, also.  The girl is Anastasia and we find that she is in state housing with a younger sister, Juija (Katrina Kreslina). The younger sister is being molded by the state into a proper person and ready for adoption.  It comes soon enough, with an American family (father, mother, daughter) who want to adopt two sisters. Anastasia already speaks some English, so language would not be a problem. In the meantime, there is the girl’s older sister, Diana (Gerda Aliena) who is living in public housing, has a child, and lives off the streets and by shoplifting. Their mother (Iveta Pole) is “somewhere” and when we eventually meet her, she is selfish, nonsensical, and clearly not interested in having children with her. The older sister tells Anastasia, “Oh, you were the child born in a prison.”  The older sister being in state care at that time.  Still, the middle child yearns.

Throughout the film, there are opportunities that present itself and Anastasia takes one look and does an act of vandalism. Her method of coping with having to make a decision.  Enough of this and she is in danger of police intervention. What to do? The middle child turns into a caretaker (as she sees it) for this family. A wayward older sister with child, a younger sister not understanding all and the mother who chases her middle child out a back door when a gentleman comes calling. There is also danger for young girls on the streets in Latvia.

The camera work by Aleksandris Grebnevs follows the moves of the characters with intensity.  The audience is right there to see the situation and expressions of the actors. Federico Campana’s soundtrack follows the moods of the film, also, with accuracy.

I thought “Sisters” would be going in one direction and it surprised me by going in another. I thought life in public housing would be the theme, but that is in the background. Characterization comes first. From living in public housing to what lies just beyond, and having to make decisions at age thirteen is quite a job for an actress and Emma Skirmante does it well. She is the showpiece of the film. Next to that is the character of Diana, the older sister, who is aware of her no-escape circumstances. Gerda Aliena’s facial expressions and body language say it all.  

The word family gets a new meaning, and in this film, it begins with a class study of a family tree. What if you did not have one?

Copyright 2023 Marie Asner