- Running time: 0 minutes
As Lilya 4-Ever opens, 16-year-old Oskana Akinshina, the Lilya of the title, lives in a rundown housing complex "somewhere in what once was the Soviet Union." At home, she sleeps in a cramped room beside a wall too thin to hide the sounds of her mother's lovemaking. At school, her teacher insults her in front of the class. Between the two, she finds what escape she can through cheap thrills and the off-brand cigarettes she can only sometimes afford. By film's end, these will look like the good old days. Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson's first two features focused on the theme of escape, be it the fleeting transcendence of a forbidden kiss scored to a Foreigner song in Show Me Love or the retreat from the world at large of Together. Neither film presented getting out as an easy prospect, and in Lilya 4-Ever, Moodysson visits a place defined by its impossibility. "It was meant to be a film about God's benevolence," the director has said, "but reality reared its head and it became something else." That's understating it. What it became is essentially one long free-fall from destitution to despair. Abandoned by her U.S.-bound mother and left to the none-too-tender mercies of an aunt, Akinshina is forced to leave her apartment for the squalor of one left vacant, if still nastily furnished, by an elderly man's death. When a night out clubbing presents her with the opportunity to prostitute herself, she passes. Her friend doesn't, but tells the story differently to save her reputation, ruining Akinshina's and leaving her with only the puppy-dog devotion of a semi-homeless 11-year-old boy (Artyom Bogucharsky) to fill the void. Then matters take a turn for the worse. What remains of God's benevolence in the finished film owes a lot to the hard-won grace of Lars Von Trier's recent work, but the dingy lyricism belongs entirely to Moodysson, who frequently uses it to operatically heartbreaking effect. Virtually aging on camera, both Akinshina and Bogucharsky give performances filled with a hurt to match their unrelentingly grim circumstances, their faces slowly beginning to match the slums and abandoned military bases they call home. If Moodysson's plot seems to conspire against their happiness at every turn, even in the escape he does offer, it does so no more egregiously than Fellini's Nights Of Cabiria, Blake's Songs Of Innocence, or, most relevantly, the lives led by the real-life Lilyas and other orphans of history to whom the director dedicates the film. It's a long way to the bottom, even from the lower depths, and with Lilya 4-Ever, Moodysson captures the wrenching vertigo of an accidental look down.