Best Movie Ever: Lilja-4-ever (2002)

Posted on February 2, 2014

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Lilja-4-ever (Lukas Moodysson, 2002)

If I had to describe this film in three words, I would probably get through two before breaking down into uncontrollable sobbing. Obviously I wouldn’t, but don’t be fooled. Lilja-4-ever is a bleak, bleak film. Even as a work of fiction it is tough to watch, but add in the fact that it is loosely based on a true story and deals with a very real issue in the world today, and you have something that would quite easily make its way on to a bleak Thursday Thive.

Lilja is just like any other teenage girl in any other unnamed Soviet Republic. Impoverished, yes, but with the optimism that most 16 year olds have. Her Mum is going to America, and she’s safe to assume she’ll be joining her. Well, not so quick Lilja, Mum is going but she’ll call back soon. Her Mum leaves, and her Aunt takes over, moving Lilja into a dump of a flat (to say the least). Things aren’t great but they aren’t too awful, as she heads to a club with a friend. Well, her friend is prostituting herself, and Lilja rejects any idea of doing the same. Things start taking a turn for the shitter when her friends Dad finds the money she made. In a panic, the friend tells her Dad that Lilja made the money by prostituting herself. Word spreads, and word spreads fast. Broke and lost, she heads over to her Aunt who also tells her that she should become a prostitute. This is a film full of heartless characters.

The final straw comes when Lilja is summoned to social welfare, to find out that her Mum has disowned her. Desperate and poor, she decides to sell herself. She vomits profusely afterwards. With the money she is able to buy her little buddy Volodya a basketball, which is great and all, except his Dad is mad and punctures it with scissors. Oh so heartless. Whilst walking home one night after working, she is approached by a guy called Andrei. He’s different it seems, and they strike up a relationship pretty quickly. They even have a particularly sweet meal in McDonalds. You know a film is bleak when a meal in McDonalds is considered the positive part of the first hour. Andrei tells her he can find her work in Sweden, and the decision is made to go.

It turns out Andrei was an awful human, preying on desperate young girls in poor cities to sell into sex slavery. Upon arrival in Sweden she is attacked and raped by her new boss, and by boss I mean pimp. The rape comes thick and fast from here on in, as do the beatings and oh my god this thing is so awful and grim and bleak and why why why. After a particularly severe beating for trying to escape, she is told by Volodya (who, by the way, committed suicide and is now an angel) that the door is unlocked. She makes a run for it, making her way to a motorway bridge. She jumps. She dies.

When a suicide can almost be considered a happy ending, the film can only be described as bleak. What does one expect though, when such subject matter is in focus? Human trafficking is still a very real issue in the world today, and Lilja-4-ever doesn’t flinch in portraying everything as brutal as it should be. In an interview regarding the film director Moodysson remarked that he wanted the film to be like a train running over its audience. He succeeded, without doubt. The sex scenes throughout are particularly tough. Instead of taking the standard camera-outside-of-the-body shot, most of the scenes are shot as if the viewer is watching through Lilja’s eyes. It is more grim on top of very much grim.

I can’t say I enjoyed the film. Christ, of course not, only a sadist would be able to say so. Again, this is not a film to watch on a Saturday night in an attempt to be entertained. It could be considered ‘anti-film’ in some respects. But no one ever said that art was for made for entertainment, and if they did then they are fraudulent. Art should be created in order to garner reaction, to encourage education and increase awareness of whatever issue is at hand. I’m all for the occasional dumb art, but film in particular is in a position to evolve minds and open people up to parts of the world they don’t know or are too afraid of. That’s why Lilja-4-ever is important. It’s also important because its a bloody fantastic film.

Lilja-4-ever is a deep look into acute human suffering in very real situations. There is no let up, no release, no break in the horror. Even when Andrei turns up on the scene and the possibility of a bright light comes in, Lilja is attacked in her home. When she builds a den with her little buddy Volodya, they discuss pretending to be dead. Don’t watch this film is you weak of mind.

But watch this film. Because it is terrifyingly good.

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Posted in: Cinema, Reviews