Saturday, 12 February 2011

Lilya 4 Ever - A tale of false hope in the former Soviet Union

Film: Lilja 4 Ever
Release Date: 25th April, 2003
Certificate: 18
Running Time: 109 minutes
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Starring:
Oksana Akinshina, Artyom Bogucharsky, T├Ánu Kark
Genre: Drama
Studio: Sonet Film
Format: DVD
Country: Sweden


Lilja 4 Ever is the third film from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson and is the story of one girl’s belief that she is destined for happiness within an area of the former Soviet Union where the prospects of child prostitution and sex trafficking are forever looming. The narrative of a girl's descent into prostitution may be a cliched narrative of world cinema but it doesn't stop Lilja 4 Ever from being all the more harrowing. 

Opening to the sound of industrial death metal, we are introduced to Lilja (played by Oksana Akinshina),who wanders bruised and disorientated, lost and alone, in a foreign city. Coming across a bridge, she prepares to jump off onto the busy highway below in an act of suicide. Fading to black, the film resumes three months earlier in the former Soviet Union to an impoverished area of Estonia.

Lilja is elated at the prospect of moving to America with her mother and her new ‘boyfriend’. Unfortunately, after a family meeting, it transpires that the mother is to move off to the US without Lilja who will be left under the care of a cruel and seemingly uncaring aunt. Left on her own, Lilja is forced into coming up with a way to support herself, which comes in the form of prostitution. Forming a friendship with Volodya, a local boy and son of an abusive alcoholic father, Lilja manages to maintain her composure as she makes enough money to live independently. After forming a relationship with a Swedish gentleman, Lilja is asked to move to Sweden with him. It seems as if her dreams are finally becoming true.       

From the harrowing opening sequence it is clear that Lilja 4 Ever is not going to be an easy film to watch. The film is based on real life events where 16 year old Danguole Rasalaite jumped off a bridge after being transported from her home in Lithuania to Sweden under the allusion that she was going to have a job but in reality was pimped out and sexually abused upon a daily basis. She died three days later after jumping and her story was pieced together by three letters she was carrying at the time.

For director Lukas Moodysson it marks a startling change, his debut film Show Me Love out grossed Titanic in his native Sweden and his last picture Together was an oddball hippy comedy of sorts with dark satirical undertones. By contrast, Lilja 4 Ever is a fairy tale set within a gritty urban area, there are monsters and angels, an evil aunt, a loyal and dependable friend and even a handsome prince. Lilja is effectively a princess who believes unquestionably in this narrative that her luck is destined to change, dreaming that her prince charming will come and whisk her far away from the misery that surrounds her. It will of course lead to her downfall and the audience knows this of course, and the film’s predictability only adds to its tragedy. 

The relationship between Lilja and Volodya are the core to the film.
The more innocent scenes between Lilja and Volodya form the core of the story and feel reminiscent of the character interactions as seen in the films of Shane Meadows and Ken Loach. That is, two characters living in impoverishment but still finding happiness in their lives through their friendship. Lilja herself played by Oksana Akinshina can at times appear to be a spoiled brat as she flaunts her success in the faces of friends and neighbours, and you can sometimes forget that she is just a kid.     

Next to the Millennium trilogy, Lilja 4 Ever illuminates Sweden’s misogynist undercurrents. Less critical, and more of an outright condemnation, Moodysson is on the warpath against his native homeland on this front. Sometimes the film feels as if it is going too far, the film’s Ramstein opening, for example is a particularly bombastical approach, you may ask why a Swedish film would open to German death metal. Though it does add an element of confusion, you do wonder how Lilja would have any conception of this kind of music, even when she has been pushed so far to the edge, she views death as her only liberation.

The ugliest moments of the movie come in the form of a series of montage sequences, in which we witness from Lilja’s perspective, a parade of older men raping her. The sheer number of men is sickening, the whole experience invasive and completely without passion, like the audience is being raped themselves. It is no understatement to say that these scenes may just be enough to put you off sex for life. Even after the film has finished, these sequences will linger, as you realize that someone somewhere on this planet will be experiencing this horror for real.

Lilja 4 Ever, is not for the faint of heart. Though there are moments of tenderness to balance the unremitting horror and overwhelming sense of hopelessness, the film feels like a very angry film as Lilja is buoyed on by delusional dreams much to the audiences’ own distress. It is certainly a hard film to recommend, as any film that deals with child prostitution will be, but then this is a subject that cannot be left out of minds.



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