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Sweden/Denmark 2002
Directed by
Lukas Moodysson
109 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Lilya 4-Ever

Synopsis: Sixteen year old Russian schoolgirl Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) eagerly anticipates leaving her dreary suburban life and moving to America. Her mother has met a new man through internet dating and goes on ahead, promising to send for Lilya. But as time passes with no word, Lilya is forced to accept that she has been abandoned. Evicted from her home by a conniving aunt, Lilya finds her life going rapidly downhill. Her only friend is 11 year old Volodya (Artiom Bogucharski) with whom she shares her meagre dreams and glue sniffing. New hope comes in the guise of the charming Andrei (Pavel Ponomarev) who promises Lilya work and a new life in Sweden. However any glimmer of hope is dashed as Lilya’s new life is sucked into a vortex of despair.

This is a compelling film about what can happen to a young girl who is rejected by the stabilising influences of friends and family and falls prey to the evils of sexual exploitation. It can also be viewed as a timely and sad commentary upon the way more affluent countries are currently exploiting women from poorer countries. But Lilya 4-Ever goes far beyond this in being an emotional cry for understanding disaffected young people and showing the tragic turn their lives can take when a society is heedless of their needs.

From the opening scene, in which a hand held camera tracks the desperate Lilya running through the streets to the heavy metal thumping of "Mein Herz Brennt" ("My Heart Burns"), this film is bleakly gripping. The dreariness of the Russian streets is relentless, and gloom pervades. The brief joy Lilya has at the prospect of her departure is shattered by her mother’s news, and in a most poignant scene she unpacks a precious painting of a winged angel leading a small child by the hand – a moment to become most significant in the light of later events. Indeed, many of the images take on a desperate poignancy that is almost prophetic.

The performances by Okinshina and Bogucharski are convincing and deeply moving. Compared to Moodysson’s earlier film Fucking Åmål (also known as Show Me Love), this is devastating. Whereas both show youngsters looking to escape, Lilya 4-Ever offers little chance of that, except for the closing sequences. Perhaps Moodysson’s conclusion is only to ameliorate some of the audience’s pain, or perhaps to affirm his own spiritual beliefs. Either way it is small comfort in a film that will leave you emotionally-drained.




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