On Lukas Moodysson’s Lilja 4-Ever (2002)

lilya copy

by Giselle Defares 

Lilja 4-ever. The moment Lilja etched these words into a municipal bench, you’ll know: disaster lies ahead for our young protagonist. After his first two feelgood features, Fucking Åmål (adolescent troubles in the countryside with an happy ending) and Together (teasing portrait of the seventies), the Swedish director Lukas Moodysson made Lilja 4-ever, a surrealistic drama about an adolescent girl in an desolate city. There is little hope for Lilja. Lilja is a lost girl from an anonymous town in an new Eastern European country that is cold and gray and developed after the Soviet Union had collapsed. Parts of Lilja 4-everwere shot inEstonia,Tallinn, but Lilja’s city has no name.OnlyLiljahas a name.A name carved intoa municipal bench.

How can a film about involuntary sex, poverty and exploitation offer hope? Lilja 4-ever is about finding your own paradise, human vulnerability and social realism. Lilja’s mother leaves with her boyfriend to find her personal paradise. She still believes that America – when the Communist workers idyll was not unmasked – is the promised land. The land of new beginnings. Blinded by the hope of a better life, her decision to leave her daughter behind to the care of the anonymous city, is all the more painful. Lilja leaves her country under false pretenses and moves to Sweden. Moodysson wanted to show what the canonization of capitalism has led to. Lilja has to deal with a world where everything is for sale.

A recurring theme in Lukas Moodysson’s films is resilience. In this case: the resilience of children. Contrary to the adults, the children are able to survive. Not only against prejudice or social conditions, but also by their imagination, their determined optimism, because of something you almost have to call a positive nucleus. They are pure and unaffected. Moodysson’s recurring and underling theme of hope almost seems too late in Lilja 4-ever. Lilja’s downfall has already started. Drugs and prostitution are not a last resort anymore, they are her only choices. The decline in Lilja’s life is inevitable.

Lilja 4-ever is a bleak film. The image Moodysson evokes of the former Soviet Union is one of bitter lament. The government has withdrawn in all areas, with the result that the population has been handed to itself. Children roam day and night on the streets, in this God forsaken place, where they sniff glue to ease the pain. His anger is palpable when we see slow motion footage of Lilja and her friend Volodya (Artyom Bogucharskiy), you can only tell it by the teutonic bass of Rammstein on the soundtrack (‘Mein Herz brennt!’). In this world without fire exit, the West is the dream refuge. When Lilja earns money, she immediately buys her favorite cigarettes – the package depicts an image Wall Street. Other Western brands play a role; once arrived in Sweden, Lilja, now totally dependent on a pimp, will eat noting but McDonald’s food. The lure of the West is already reduced to greasy, damp sandwiches.

Stylistically, Lilja 4-ever takes after the Dogma films: raw, realistic, filmed by another camera that likes to linger at the sometimes inept playing actors. Oksana Akinshina who plays Lilja was first seen in Sisters of Sergei Bodrov Jr .The rest of the cast were plucked off the streets or have a background in Estonian theater. The cleverness of Moodyssons approach lies in the fact that he portrays a global issue while telling a small, intimate story. Lilja 4-ever is not a film about teenage prostitution and unscrupulous men – even though there is a haunting scene where pumping and supportive male bodies were filmed from below. Moodyssons pessimism goes further; he uses the sex industry as a symbol of a world where the rich are in no way concerned about the poor. The raw – and sometimes fairytale – story is a plea for humanity.

Lilja 4-ever is one of those films that nestles in your memory. One fleeting image that is unforgettable: a blonde girl holding a painting which depicts a guardian angel and drags it behind her. A guardian angel in the West who rapidly lost the way.

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Giselle

Giselle enjoys googling random things like it’s academic research but her grandma Hilda had a premonition of a great future. So, there’s that.

You can see more of her work over at The Style Icon: http://www.thestylecon.com/author/giselledefares/

 

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