Lilya 4-Ever

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Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Oksana Akinshina, Artiom Bogucharskij, Elina Beninson, Lilia Shinkareva
Director: Lukas Moodysson

Opening with the end of the movie, a distressful scene of Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) visibly physically battered and running helplessly down a street accompanied by a piece of loud German music that accentuates the scenario, the film then backtracks to its beginning. Lilya is a sixteen year-old Russian girl living in a small Russian town with her mother. Her mother is going to America and Lilya assumes that she will go too, but she is told to stay behind and will be sent for later. After an emotional but unsuccessful plea to go with her mother, Lilya is forced to stay on her own. After a short while Lilya is told to move out of her mother’s flat by her aunt Natasha and she moves to a disgusting flat where an old man has just died.

Here Lilya meets a small boy Volodya (Artiom Bogucharskij) who is also ignored by his parents and they become friends. Lilya decides to take control of her situation and goes out to a club with a girlfriend of hers. Her girlfriend sleeps with a man and is paid cash, advising Lilya to do the same but Lilya decides not to. On the following day Lilya’s girlfriend comes to her flat accompanied by her father and hands Lilya the money that she has made from the casual sex. As a result of this the rumour around the neighbourhood is that Lilya is a whore.

Broke and forced out of ignorance to sleep with a man for money, Lilya can now afford to buy food – and a present for her only friend Volodya. As she plays at home one afternoon with Volodya some boys from her neighbourhood force their way in and gang rape her. Lilya is left even more confused and heartbroken but she still needs to survive and again out of ignorance she sleeps with another man for money but gets a beating instead. On her way home she is befriended by a boy, Andrei, who treats her respectfully and becomes her boyfriend. In between glue sniffing with Volodya and spending time with her boyfriend Lilya seems to be happy. When Andrei offers to take her to Sweden she willingly agrees despite Volodya’s strong objections and it’s only on the way to the airport that she learns Andrei will be joining her later in Sweden. So she departs with her fake passport, compliments of Andrei.

Lilya flies first class to Sweden and is met by a man who is apparently Andrei’s boss. He takes her to a flat on a very high floor and locks her in. The next day he walks in, finds her bathing and rapes her. He then takes her out to work, which mainly involves having sex with many different old men. She tries to escape but is beaten to a pulp and threatened with death by her vicious abuser. Meanwhile back in Russia Volodya fatally overdoses on drugs and is now visiting Lilya in the form of an angel. Returning to Lilya – after her beating the flat’s front door is miraculously left open and she escapes, leading her on another very different journey. This is now back where the film started and Lilya is now faced with two hard choices.

The acting by Oksana Akinshina is very good, maintaining levels of innocence and forced mental ageing due to abusive circumstances – a very realistic performance. Artiom Bogucharskij is equally good as her only friend who equally has an only friend in her. He portrays his innocence and suffering perfectly.

Direction by Lukas Moodysson is very artistic with good visuals and a strong sense of where the film is going but he chickens out in the end by giving a light, unrealistic ending instead of what should have been a grittier piece of realism. Perhaps the shocking revelations in this movie would have been captured better as a compelling documentary as the subject matter is very hard to deal with in a typical drama.

3 out of 6 stars