| art & architecture | books & cds | dance
| destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
Bring a hankie to Lilya
4-Ever, and be prepared to leave the theater with a heavy, aching heart. Swedish
director/writer Lukas Moodyssons brutal story of a teen girl betrayed by her family
and society is difficult to watch, but its also one of the most gut-busting,
unforgettable and, yes, poetic, films to hit the big screen in a long time.
In the first 15 minutes, 16-year-old Lilya (Oksana Akinshina), who
lives in a dreary, unidentified city in the former Soviet Union, is abandoned by her
mother, who is moving to America. Lilya runs after her, shrieking "dont leave
me!" but ends up writhing in spattered mud left in the wake of moms
boyfriends car as it chugs away.
Things dont improve for Lilya. Her hag of an aunt relocates her
from her small, crummy apartment to an even smaller, despicably filthy flat still filled
with detritus from a recently deceased old man. Its not long before the electricity
is cut off. She lights candles; shes freezing cold. Even the clerks in the
bare-shelved store give Lilya and her friends a hard time about their purchases. To pass
the time, Lilya and her pals sniff glue, and fantasize. She carves "Lilya
4-Ever" on a bench on the street.
The pretty Lilya and her friend Natasha (Elina Benninson) decide to
make money by prostituting themselves. They get decked out in their sexiest clothes and go
to a disco, where Natasha picks up a guy, while Lilya passes. When Natashas father
finds the cash she earned, she lies, and exposes Lilya as the loose one. Lilya is not only
ostracized by her so-called "friends," shes raped.
The one positive thing in Lilyas life is Volodya (Artiom
Bogucharskij), a boy several years younger than Lilya who sublimates his crush on her, and
who becomes her true friend. A scene when they escape to an abandoned military base and
dream about basketball and better lives as they huddle under a blanket to keep warm is
powerfully emotional. Brilliantly falling just a shade short of being unbearable to watch,
What makes Lilya so compelling is her faith, which she keeps even while
shes lost just about everything else. Her most prized possession is a picture of an
angel, an image director Moodysson repeatedly employs in magical realism sequences that
give the viewer a break from Lilyas relentlessly oppressive life. That same faith is
what drives the movie. Moodysson delicately crafts a compellingly sympathetic protagonist
in the face of such harsh reality. Even though theres intellectual understanding
that nothing good can ever come in Lilyas life, Moodysson so transfixes his viewers,
there is no choice other than to root for her.
Moodysson, who explored lives of teens in 2000s Together (a decidedly lighter film than Lilya),
elicits nuanced performances from his young actors. As Lilya, the beautiful Akinshina (who
looks a little like Michelle Williams of TVs "Dawsons Creek") never
overplays, while Bogucharskij is sweetly and gently matter-of-fact as Volodya. Volodya, of
course, is right when he warns Lilya that her hunky newfound boyfriend Andrei (Pavel
Ponomarev) isnt the nice guy he seems. Andrei picks her up in the disco where
shes become a regular, eventually having been forced into selling herself.
But Andrei doesnt sleep with her. They drive around in his red
sports car, have innocent fun at a bumper car ride, and he treats her to McDonalds.
(Moodyssons use of the corporate behemoth as happy foreshadowing before terror to
come is pointedly ironic.) Andrei tells Lilya that theyll move to Sweden, where
hell get her a job. Lilya does go to Sweden, where horrors even more violent than
what she experienced at home are in store for her. Moodysson even has us wishing that
shell return to her own dirty town.
The film, mostly a flashback, comes full circle to an image of a beaten
girl whos searching, running uncontrollably through city streets to the pounding,
anguished strains of Rammsteins "Mein
Herz Brennt." About to jump off a pedestrian bridge into traffic, shes
wasted, and so is the audience.
In Lilya 4-Ever, Moodysson has created a rare work of art --
one with an intensity that evokes physical as well as emotional pain, and overwhelming
- Leslie Katz