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With: Oksana Akinshina, Artyom Bogucharsky, Lyubov Agapova, Liliya Shinkaryova, Elina Benenson, Pavel Ponomaryov, Tomas Neumann, Anastasiya Bedredinova, Tonu Kark, Nikolai Bentsler
Written by: Lukas Moodysson
Directed by: Lukas Moodysson
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, a rape scene, drug use and language
Language: Swedish, Russian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 109
Date: 08/23/2002
IMDB

Lilya 4-Ever (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Lilya' of the Alley

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sweden's new star filmmaker, Lukas Moodysson, follows proudly in his forefather Ingmar Bergman's footsteps with his third feature, Lilya 4-Ever.

Like Bergman, Moodysson scrapes away at layers of pain and truth until you feel raw and alive, and each subsequent film grows more and more terrifying. His first two features, the teen lesbian romance Show Me Love and the hippie commune roundelay Together, practically seem like comedies compared to this new work.

The extraordinary Oksana Akinshina stars as the 16 year-old Lilya, a fairly typical girl living in lower-class housing in Russia. When her mother's new boyfriend announces that they're leaving for the United States, Lilya has visions of a bright future. But she soon learns that the mother and the boyfriend intend to go without her.

Left on her own, Lilya's hopes of hearing from her mother dwindle. Lilya's heartless landlord shoves her into a cheaper flat, and she allows a younger boy, Volodya (Artyom Bogucharsky) to stay with her when he has his own family troubles.

It gets worse before it gets better. Starving, and following a friend's example, she learns she can get money by sleeping with men. But a nice young man, Andrei (Pavel Ponomaryov) comes along and takes her on a dream date to the carnival. Things begin to look bright again.

Andrei even invites her to live in Sweden with him where she can get a real job. Unfortunately, the guy turns out to be a recruiter for a sleazy pimp, who locks Lilya in a hotel room and only lets her out for clients. Moodysson shows Lilya's POV with a horrible series of sweaty, hairy, middle-aged men thumping away on top of her.

And not even Lilya's coveted framed picture of an angel leading a child by the hand can provide much solace.

Moodysson uses his typical close-in, claustrophobic, hand-held camera, but it works far better here than it did in his two previous features. He has a smaller cast and their world is much more diminutive, and so the cramped space is appropriate. We don't feel we're missing out on some bigger world outside the frame.

Along those lines, Moodysson actually compresses the film's emotional world as well as the physical world. He develops Lilya and Volodya's relationship slowly and organically. Volodya starts out by having a crush on Lilya and trying to seduce her, but quickly moves into the role of younger brother and protector. Their small scenes huddled together on the couch have a pathetic sweetness to them.

Both actors are superb, but Akinshina brings to mind the extraordinary work of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. Moodysson makes you wonder how badly he might have traumatized her in order to get so close to the truth.

Still, it's hard to unabashedly recommend such a grueling film. Consider this more like a warning. Don't miss Lilya 4-Ever but don't underestimate its power, either.

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