Lilya 4-ever (18)
Lukas Moodyson follows up the magnificent ensemble drama that was Together with this stunning portrait of youth and stolen innocence in an unnamed Russian state.
Feisty teenager Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) winds up the neighbours, the local shopkeeper and her friends with abandon because she’s off to America with her mother and new boyfriend. The doesn’t expect to be left behind, which is exactly what happens when mother and lover drive off to their new life, leaving Lilya wailing in the mud and along in a flat she cannot afford to pay for.
It gets worse when an aunt boots her out and into a slum formerly occupied by an old man, now dead. With no cash, no prospects and no idea how to survive, 16-year-old Lilya clings to her pal Natasha – a far more worldly-wise youth who raises readies by hanging out in local bars and allowing herself to be picked up by older men.
Lilya turns down Natasha’s exhortations to sell herself, but gets a shock when her friend arrives early the next morning, her father looming menacingly over her shoulder, to return the money she ‘borrowed’ from Lilya. To conceal her secret, Natasha has pointed the finger of prostitution at Lilya. From that moment, she is doomed.
Lilya 4-ever is Loachian in its documentary-style grimness, and heartbreaking in the clinical manner in which it depicts the downfall of its heroine. Moodyson constructs his story with infinite patience, never for one moment allowing Lilya to be proactive. Instead she plot revolves around her reactions to the various calamities that befall her and her ever-growing relationship with 11-year-old street urchin Volodya (Artiom Boguscharskij).
The thrust of the tale – the international traffic in young women from Russia and its neighbours to western Europe, in this case Sweden where Lilya is sold to one middle-aged client to another – is how cruel is this world, and how innocence can be snuffed out before it has a chance.
Moodyson does overplay his hand in presenting Lilya as a victim with no way out, but the horror at the heart of the story – abandonment, homelessness, drug abuse (Volodya’s only respite from cold and hunger is via a bag of glue), rape, prostitution and human traffic – is impossible to ignore. Throw in two of the best performances by youngsters from any movie of the last five years and Lilya 4-ever rapidly emerges as a film to challenge anything by Ken Loach or Mike Leigh.
Tough, uncompromising, devoid of conscience and deliberately shocking, Lilya 4-ever is a slice of real life drama that throws offerings like The Matrix Reloaded into a shade of mediocrity. It’s hard to watch, but it’s cinema with a capital ‘C’.
Star rating: ****