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What to know: My Little Sister has marvelous young actors, terrific cinematography, detailed ethnic design of the interior settings and clothing, and shows the best of human values amidst the pain of war.
MY LITTLE SISTER is in the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival - it may not be a regular, endorsed title
Recommended age 12-18
84 minutes
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I really enjoyed the film My Little Sister with marvelous young actors, terrific cinematography, detailed ethnic design of the interior settings and clothing, and showing the best of human values amidst the pain of war. However, parents need to decide if their children are familiar with, or ready for, a drama with the backdrop of World War II and in the foreground, the families who live and love through it. Also of note to parents: There are initial images zooming past two shot corpses to a child hidden in a chimney, as well as some scenes of bullying by children. What I find enjoyable about the film is the slower pacing and the focus on characters, feelings, and a part of the world that is becoming familiar through contemporary news accounts. That may not satisfy today's kids who are more used to action, quick editing, and special effects. While a deeper analysis will likely reveal biases currently imposed by the Russian Federation on historical films from the region, this film is, at its heart, a touching story about friendship, family, trust, courage, and, ultimately, hope.

For Yamil, a six-year-old Bashkir boy, the war has always been. He is waiting for his father, known only through photos and letters, to come home from the Front. One day, Yamil's mother travels far and brings home a silent Ukrainian girl, Oksana, along with Father's order to take care of her as if she were his sister. This is a filmed adaptation of the novel "The Joy of Our Home" by Soviet writer Mustai Karim.

This film has been shown in numerous children's film festivals, though not in the US. It has also garnered some awards. The acting is top-notch, the production values beautiful. This is a professionally-made film that reveals other cultures within a historical context. I like how the story reveals both the differences between our cultures and how children conduct themselves, as well as the universality of children's behavior - through play, humor, emotions, adventure, and solving challenges. The cinematography is part of what makes this film so watchable. Sweeping vistas of mountains, forests, snow - of nature and beauty juxtaposed against close-ups of faces, marked by joys and sorrows, vivacity and resolve.

The layered costumes are authentic to the ethnic community of the Bashkirs -- with colorful or earth-toned hats for the men and boys and scarves for the women and girls. Also authentic are the uniforms and arms of the soldiers. I admire the rich, natural landscapes, the sometimes harsh conditions of snow as well as pastoral calm, and the majesty of the cinematography capturing the terrain. The interiors of the basically log cabin-type houses are fascinating - the colorful cloth patterns, the rustic kitchen and hearth, even the mattresses and bedding are authentic and of visual interest. The background music by film and television composer Ilya Dukhovnyy adds to the sweeping cinematography, tension and joy, and the emotional content of the film.

The main two child actors are brilliant and natural. Arslan Krymchurin as Yamil gives a stand-out performance -- authentic, vivacious, and we see every emotion - from love to anger to resolve - registering on his face. Marta Kessler as Oksana easily emotes without words in the beginning of the film, evolving from a tearful and traumatized orphan to a fun-loving and supportive older "sister." The other main characters of mother and grandmother, the villagers, and the other children all do their part to bring the story to life. I really enjoyed watching the performances of the children - so authentic and endearing.

The film's message is about the harsh collective effects of war on the people left behind and yet the enduring human spirit of family, community, hope, courage, and love. Be forewarned that it contains bloody, gory acts of violence and shows kids doing risky things that kids might imitate. Disturbing images of the initial fast zoom of shot corpses and child hidden in a chimney; the rocks thrown by kids at soldiers, bullying and teasing by some characters to others, two boys head out secretly to "fight in the war."

I give My Little Sister 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. By Ann B., KIDS FIRST!


As far back as Yamil can remember, the war was always. But Yamil is waiting for its end, because then his Father, known to the boy only through photos and letters, will be back home. One day his Mother goes to a distant city and brings a silent girl Oksana. Mother also brings his Father's order to take care of Oksana as if she were his sister...The film adaptation of the novel The Joy of Our Home by the canonical Soviet writer Mustai Karim.
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