Lilya 4-ever is a 2002 Swedish drama film. It is director Lukas Moodysson's third feature film which marks a sharp change of mood from his previous two films, the uplifting love story Show Me Love and Together, set in the 1970s. Lilya 4-ever is an unremittingly brutal and realistic story of the downward spiral of Lilya, played by Oksana Akinshina, a girl in the former Soviet Union whose mother abandons her to move to the United States. The story is loosely based on a true case and examines the issue of human trafficking and sexual slavery.
The film received positive reviews both in Sweden and abroad. It won five Guldbagge Awards including Best Film, and was nominated for Best Film and Best Actress at the European Film Awards.
The film starts with a figure running desperately towards a motorway bridge, with a factory belching smoke in the background, to a soundtrack of Mein Herz brennt by Rammstein. When the figure turns around the film introduces the audience to Lilya, who has recently been brutally beaten. The film reveals her past.
Lilya lives a fairly bleak life with her mother in a run down apartment block in a squalid, poor town in an unnamed former republic of the Soviet Union (principal filming took place in Paldiski, Estonia). For all intents and purposes she is a normal teenage girl (albeit an impoverished one). Lilya's mother tells her they are emigrating to the United States with her new boyfriend, but at the last minute Lilya is left behind, in the care of her aunt. A forced move into a squalid flat (while the Aunt moves herself into the larger, nicer flat that Lilya and her mother had lived in) is only the beginning, and a succession of miseries are heaped upon Lilya. Lilya's best friend encourages her to join her in prostituting herself for extra cash, though Lilya decides not to follow through. However, when the friend's father finds the money the friend claims that she was the one who sat at the bar while Lilya prostituted herself. Not content with ruining Lilya's reputation at home, the story soon goes round school. As Lilya has been abandoned, she now really does have to prostitute herself for money to live. One glimmer of hope is her friend Volodya (Artyom Bogucharsky), abused and rejected by his alcoholic father, with whom she forms a tender protective relationship. She buys Volodya a basketball with money she has earned as a prostitute, but Volodya's father punctures it with a pair of scissors. Another glimmer of hope is Andrei (Pavel Ponomaryov), who becomes her boyfriend and offers her a job in Sweden.
But all is not what it seems, and only bad things await Lilya when she arrives there.
After arriving in Sweden, she is greeted by her future "employer" (in reality, a pimp) and taken to a nearly empty apartment where he imprisons her. Lilya is raped by the pimp and she is then forced to perform sexual acts for her pimp's clients; all the abuse is seen from Lilya's point of view.
Meanwhile in the former Soviet Union, Volodya commits suicide, devastated that Lilya had abandoned him to his fate. In the form of an angel, Volodya comes to Lilya to watch over her. On Christmas Day, he transports Lilya to the roof of the apartment, and gives Lilya the world as a present, but she simply finds it cold and unwelcoming. After one escape attempt Lilya is brutally beaten by her pimp, but she then escapes again. Finally, and much to the distress of Volodya (who regrets having killed himself) she commits suicide herself in the continuation of the scene from the beginning of the film by jumping from the bridge.
The film's conclusion shows Lilya and Volodya, now both dead, angelic and happily playing basketball on the roof of some tenement building, safe from all harm the world can do to them.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Produced by Lars Jönsson
Written by Lukas Moodysson
Starring Oksana Akinshina
Music by Nathan Larson
Cinematography Ulf Brantås
Editing by Michal Leszczylowski
Studio Memfis Film
Distributed by Sonet Film
Release date(s) Sweden:
23 August 2002
18 April 2003
25 April 2003
7 August 2003
Running time 109 minutes
Budget 30 million SEK
Writing and pre-production
The script was loosely based on the life of Danguole Rasalaite, a 16-year-old girl from Lithuania whose case had made headlines in Sweden in 2000. A male acquaintance helped Rasalaite travel to Sweden with the promise of a job in Malmö. When she arrived, a man referred to as "the Russian," who would become her pimp, took her passport and told her she would have to repay him 20,000 SEK (US$2410 in 1999; $3180 today) for travel expenses, and she was forced to prostitute herself for the next two months. She escaped from the apartment where she was being held in the rough suburb of Arlöv on 7 January 2000, but jumped from a bridge and died three days later in the hospital. Three letters she was carrying with her unravelled the story. The screenplay was originally supposed to be deeply religious, with Jesus being a prominent character, walking next to Lilya throughout the story. Moodysson wrote the script in Swedish and then had it translated into Russian.
Production was led by Moodysson's usual studio Memfis Film. Co-producers were Film i Väst, Sveriges Television and Zentropa. Financial support was provided by the Swedish and Danish Film Institutes as well as Nordisk Film- & TV-Fond. The budget was 30 million SEK.
During the casting period, Moodysson and the crew interviewed "something like 1000" young applicants for the leading roles. The actors had to improvise on a scenario where they had been grounded and were trying to convince their mother to let them go out.While Artyom Bogucharsky had no previous acting experience, Oksana Akinshina had already starred in Sergei Bodrov, Jr.'s 2001 crime film Sisters. Moodysson has commented Akinshina as "[not] exactly what I had imagined. She is better than I imagined but different, somehow."
Filming and post-production
Paldiski in Estonia where the film was largely shot.
As Moodysson recalls, filming took "something like 40 days" to finish in total. Outdoor scenes set in the former Soviet Union were shot in Paldiski, Estonia, a former nuclear submarine training centre for the Soviet Navy. Swedish exteriors were filmed in Malmö and studio scenes in Trollhättan.Interpreters had to be present for the Russian actors to be able to understand Moodysson, who in turn had to direct based on emotional impression from the actors' intonation rather than the words. When the lines didn't sound well he would ask the actors to drop the script and improvise. One of the interpreters was Alexandra Dahlström, the star from Moodysson's debut feature Show Me Love. Dahlström, whose mother is Russian, also served as assistant director, which the producers held as an advantage since she was the same age as the title character.
Director of photography was Ulf Brantås, who started his career as a cinematographer for Roy Andersson and had filmed both of Moodysson's previous feature films. Lilya 4-ever was shot with an Aaton XTR Prod on 16 mm film which was later transferred to 35 mm. Minimum lighting was used, mainly from practicals, and whenever possible only sunlight. Locations were only sparsely rigged by the crew. A custom built rickshaw, made from the wheels of a mountain bike, was used for the long rearward-facing tracking shots. No correction filters were used though the stock was eventually graded in post-production in order to appear slightly warmer.
On 23 August 2002, Sonet Film released Lilya 4-ever in Swedish cinemas. Several festival appearances followed including Venice, Toronto and London Film Festival. A limited release in the United States begun on 18 April 2003 through Newmarket Films.Metrodome released it on 25 April 2003 in the United Kingdom, where it opened in 13 theatres.The Australian premiere followed on 7 August the same year, distributed by Potential Films.
The film has also been utilised by humanitarian organisations, in information campaigns against human trafficking in various Eastern European countries. In Moldova, the International Organization for Migration received the distribution rights and organised screenings attended by 60,000 people, mostly young females but also members of the government.
Swedish critics were very positive to Lilya 4-ever upon its release. Malena Janson started her review in Svenska Dagbladet by hailing Moodysson's ability to address different themes and emotional spectra, and thereby escape comparison between his pictures. Janson went on to compare the directing to Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, and found Lilya 4-ever to be superior: "What particularly distinguishes Moodysson's from von Trier's destruction tales, and makes it so much more gruesome, are the ties to reality. While we're sitting in the movie theatre and delight and torment ourselves through this masterpiece, happens outside exactly what Lilya encounters perhaps only a few kilometres or miles away from us." The film was fairly successful at the Swedish box office, although significantly less so than Moodysson's previous films. Lilya 4-ever sold 270,000 tickets during the theatrical run, compared to 867,584 and 882,000 respectively for Show Me Love and Together.
The film was embraced by most English-language critics as well. As of November 2009 it had an 86% approval from 65 reviews listed at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.5/10. It was rated with four stars out of five possible in the British film magazine Empire, where reviewer Michael Hayden praised the performance by Oksana Akinshina while comparing the film to both the social realism of Ken Loach, and "the darkest of fairy tales, complete with wicked aunts and guardian angels." Manohla Dargis of the Los Angeles Times noted that the image of the girl lured into prostitution might be a cliché, but held the director's honest intention as an acceptable excuse: "Moodysson wants us to see that there's a real person under the platitudes". She also noted that while the story might be unpleasant to take part of, the discomfort is surpassed by the sheer quality of the film: "This isn't an easy film -- only a memorable one. A negative review came from Sight & Sound's Tony Rayns. Rayns dismissed the film as melodramatic and lacking in substance, while also criticizing the stylistic choice of the dream sequences, as well as the soundtrack's composition: "The most extreme case is [the] use of Rammstein's 'Mein Herz brennt', played at woofer-challenging volume over the opening and closing scenes. ... Even if we take the volume as a metaphor for the girl's wish to block out the world, it's absurd to imagine that Lilya would ever relate to or even listen to a Rammstein track in German. So the wall of sound comes from some 'higher' version of MTV, not from the character or story."
Awards and honours
Lilya 4-ever won several awards from film festivals around the world including Best Film at Gijón International Film Festival. Akinshina won the awards for Best Actress both in Gijón and at Rouen Nordic Film Festival. Ulf Brantås was prized for Best Cinematography at Zimbabwe International Film Festival and Moodysson won the award for Best Director at Brasilia International Film Festival.
The film was the big winner at the 2003 Guldbagge Awards where it received prizes for Best Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Akinshina as Best Actress and Best Cinematography. Bogucharsky was also nominated for Best Actor. It was nominated for Best Film and Best Actress at the European Film Awards.At the Chlotrudis Awards 2004, an annual event held in Massachusetts with the aim to "honor and support independent and foreign films", it was nominated for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor, but failed to win in any category.It was Sweden's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 75th Academy Awards, which sparked some controversy when the Academy considered to deem it ineligible since the primary language is not Swedish. Eventually it was accepted, but failed to be nominated. In November 2009 the film magazine FLM published a list of the 10 best Swedish films of the decade as voted by 26 of the country's leading critics. Lilya 4-ever appeared as number three on the list, surpassed only by Involuntary and Songs from the Second Floor.
Oksana Akinshina as Lilya
Artyom Bogucharsky as Volodya
Lyubov Agapova as Lilya's mother
Liliya Shinkaryova as aunt Anna
Elina Benenson as Natasha
Pavel Ponomaryov as Andrei
Tomasz Neuman as Witek
Anastasiya Bedredinova as neighbour
Tõnu Kark as Sergei
Nikolai Bentsler as Natasha's boyfriend
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