Lilya 4-Ever is a very adult look at life through children's eyes. It is both heart warming and gut wrenching. Some will say that it is a film of absolute hopelessness; I would argue that it shows the resiliency of the human spirit in unthinkable circumstances, while taking an unblinking look at capitalism.
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Lilya 4-Ever centers around two Russian orphans, Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) and Volodya (Artiom Bogucharskij). Lilya's mother has gone to America to follow the dream of a better life; she is so intent on chasing this dream that she emotionlessly leaves her daughter behind in the care of her decaying aunt while promising that she will send for her shortly. Her aunt's first decision as guardian is to throw Lilya out of her family's home and force her to live in the abandoned apartment of a very recently departed geriatric man. Lilya's new home is somewhat livable once she cleans up the remains of the man's last meal from the kitchen table and performs some other overhauls. Under her new circumstances Lilya's grades falter and she has to find a way to make money to support herself. Broke, alone, and with her “best” friends rapidly decreasing in numbers, Lilya finds support and a new family in the street urchin Volodya; who sleeps on benches and in stairwells after being kicked out by his father. He has an innocent crush on Lilya and the two share many afternoons together. Lilya takes pity on Volodya and allows him to stay with her on the couch starting a beautiful relationship that gives them both the strength to face each day.
We all have dreams, things we want or imagine that will offer us a better life or make us better people. The same is true for these children. Lilya's mother disappears in America to escape her past while Lilya and Volodya are left to imagine their heroes, Michael Jordan and Britney Spears from afar. Sweden becomes the dreamland once America is out of the question for these two. Lilya manages to get offered a job and a free place to stay in Sweden with the possibility that Volodya can follow shortly after. To the audience this sounds a little too much like the promise that Lilya got from her mother on her departure, but Lilya is blinded by her hopes. Our hearts go out to this poor creature and there is nothing we can do to help her. In Lilya's young mind nothing can be worse than the stints with prostitution and the conditions she is living in now, so she grabs her one opportunity and doesn't have the chance to look back until it's too late.
This is writer, director Lukas Moodysson's third film. The most blunt symbol of capitalism in Lilya 4-Ever is the colorful McDonald's logo found on bags in the trash or offered to Lilya by the men who are ruining her life. Other, wealthier people have gotten to enjoy the fruits of America and it is rubbed in Lilya and Volodya's faces that it is just out of their reach. Moodysson's film makes us look at choices; he puts his characters in grim situations that many of us have never and could never imagine. What amazed me was how Lilya's choice to sell herself actually made sense when she could finally afford to go grocery shopping. It was one of the few moments of pride for Lilya as she paid for her goods with a large ill-gotten wad of cash while an independent smirk crossed her lips. Looking back Lilya knows exactly which decision she should have changed, Moodysson offers the audience one final look, showing that even when things seem like they can get no worse there are still choices.
The Cinematography by Ulf Brantas is simply amazing. Russia is cast in a stark, barren blue hue. The most striking forms in Lilya 4-Ever are that of the child angel which is shown through the eyes of a child and strikes a nerve with the audience. Like the rest of the film the angels are not fictionalized or glamorized, they are very life-like and through this technique it is hard to doubt their existence.
Lilya 4-Ever is just being released in the States, but it has already gotten much acclaim overseas. Most notably, newcomer Oksana Akinshina (Lilya) has been nominated for best actress awards. She shows astonishing character throughout and true potential as an actress. If she plays her cards right she will be the next Audrey Tautou (Amelie). Bogucharskij (Volodya) is equally talented. These two take on demanding roles and give them life with their small amount of life-experience.
This movie will make audiences talk. There are some scenes that are hard to take and many will squirm in their seats. Despite this, it is a movie that is worth talking about and should be picked apart after viewing. It quietly and succinctly represents a foreign view of America and reminds us that we may not always realize how good we have it.
The review of this Movie prepared by Christopher Bryan