Lilja (Oksana Akinshina) is a sixteen-year-old girl living in a depressing, rural small town in Estonia with her mother (Lyubov Agapova). One happy day her mother tells her that they’re moving to the US. Lilja is overjoyed. It finally looks like her dreams of leaving Paldiski are coming true, but then her mother leaves without her. Abandoned with her mean, greedy aunt, left with no money and living the shittiest apartment imaginable things aren’t looking to good for Lilja. As if it couldn’t get any worse her BFF spreads false rumors about her in school, so she turns to the only person that consistently had her back: a little kid named Volodya (Artyom Bogucharskiy). Lilja quits school, occasionally prostituting herself just to get by, not to starve and pay the bills. One night she meets a dark, not so tall, stranger that offers her a ride. Once again it finally looks like things are turning around for her, but they’re just about to get a lot worse.
Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson, from Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål) fame, Lilja 4-Ever is inspired by true events and that’s what makes it all the more heavy and difficult to digest. Sex trade is not a light subject and Moodysson decides to treat it accordingly: Not glamourizing it, but making it feel real instead. This is an important film, because it tries to raise awareness about an issue that is not openly talked about. I’m sure most people would prefer to ignore it, but it exists. The filmmakers dedicated this film to the millions of children being exploited around the world. The sex scenes in Lilja 4-Ever are hardly tantalizing or erotic, but rather dirty and almost nauseating. Actually, there aren’t a lot of sex scenes shown ‘explicitly’, there’s no nudity and there’s no doubt that Lilja is not enjoying the act. I really appreciated how the sex scenes were shot from her character’s point of view.
However dim and sad this all might sound any other approach would have probably resulted in the film feeling felt dishonest or watered down. As someone who doesn’t have much knowledge on the subject I found this film incredibly informative. I think it should be shown in schools to warn kids: I don’t think this issue is discussed enough compared to others.
From a filmmaking standpoint I love how this film was shot using mostly only natural light, I think it looks great, but almost too ‘polished’. My only small gripe is the religious aspect in this movie. It is my understanding that it was supposed to play a bigger role, but then the script was changed and as a result I didn’t get exactly what they were trying to say in that regard. I also wasn’t a fan of the ‘angel scenes’ at the end, but I understand what Lukas was trying to say. Culturally, I had the impression some actors were acting “Swedish”, if that makes sense, but I don’t know enough about Estonian mannerism to differentiate and be sure, so that’s just a feeling.
All in all though, the good things about this film outweigh my minor criticisms. The soundtrack is great: It helps contextualizing the film and immerses you in it. Excellent use of Mein Herz Brennt by Rammstein and Tatu’s hit single Nas Ne Dogonyat. The acting is superb, I really have to applaud Oksana Akinshina for a brave and heartbreaking performance. Lilja still smiles in the face of the most horrible things. I just found that to be fascinating. Moodysson doesn’t judge her character, he loves her and that’s why we are able to love her too and root for her: Even if we all know how it’s going to end.
Rating on First Viewing
(on my laptop)
8 out of 10