Director: Lukas Moodysson
Stars: Oksana Akinshina, Artyom Bogucharskiy, Pavel Ponomaryov
Those who know me well will know that depressing cinema is my kind of thing. Any film that can take you on a powerful and draining experience is a film well worth seeing in my book, so when I heard about how gruelling Lukas Moodysson’s third feature, Lilya 4-Ever, was I just had to seek it out. Whilst I can understand why most people would find it completely bemusing as to why someone would want to watch a film where the protagonist is put through hell, this is the kind of film I really admire when done right. Lilya 4-Ever is done right, and whilst it’s by no means an easy watch, it’s an important one which everyone should make time to see.
The film opens to Rammstein, a heavy metal German rock band used more recently in Lars von Trier’s latest near-masterpiece, Nymphomaniac. They play over a horrendous and ominous image of our hero, Lilya, running from something and covered in bruises. The entire film is a flashback which leads up to this emotive image, and it’s an image which assured me that this was going to be a film to remember.
Lilya 4-Ever opens with a sense of hope and optimism with Lilya looking forward to going to start a new life in America and leaving her Russian slum. However, this is quickly crushed within the first 10 minutes. Her mother abandons her and leaves her at the mercy of her hard-hearted Aunt who offers as little support as possible. Things go from bad to worse and eventually end up at the worst. Lukas does a wonderful job at immersing the audience in the world of Lilya. The raw handheld directing is reminiscent of our own cuddly pessimist, Lars Von Trier.
In fact, Lilya 4-Ever would’ve made a welcome replacement for The Idiots in Lars’ golden hearts trilogy. The film is very much like Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves in that it takes a likable and generally kind-hearted female and then the world mercilessly rips her apart. It’s about as far away from Hollywood as you can get, but unfortunately this is the world we’re living in. Someone, somewhere in the world is having a life like Lilya and Moodysson does a damn convincing job at portraying this.
The authenticity of the film isn’t least helped by 15 year-old Oksana Akinshina’s stellar performance. I believed her in every frame and sometimes she just broke my heart. It was so nice to see her in those rare moments where she’s smiling and laughing, and trying to make the most out of her dreadful situation. The moments when she’s at her lowest are the most sould-crushing, and Oksana often conveys more emotion in just one heart-breaking expression than most actors manage to do in a career.
Lilya 4-Ever is an experience that is hard to forget. It didn’t quite make me cry, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I welled up in more than one place. What makes the film even more crushing to watch is that you know that it’s completely true and that this stuff has happened and is happening to people across the world. It’s not a film you instantly forget the next day, and to me that’s the mark of a truly great film. The ending is beautifully done and is powerful enough to move mountains. As I said before, Lilya isn’t an easy film to watch, but very much like the equally distressing 12 Years a Slave, it has such an important message that it needs to be seen by everyone.