Political Film Society - Lilja 4-Ever


PFS Film Review
Lilja 4-Ever


 

Lilja 4-EverLast year, the Political Film Society nominated Tricky Life as best film exposé for showing how the white slave trade operates between Uruguay and Spain. An even grimmer picture of the white slave trade, this time from Estonia to Sweden, is found in Lilja 4-Ever, directed by Lukas Moodysson, who dedicates the film to the "millions of children around the world exploited by the sex trade." Whereas Tricky Life features young adults who leave their children behind to go to Spain, believing the promise that they will earn enough legitimate money to support their kids, Lilja 4-Ever focuses on sixteen-year-old Lilja (played by Oksana Akinshina), who is first abandoned by her parents in Estonia and then promised a marriage in Sweden that will lift her life out of poverty and prostitution. When the film begins, Lilja counts on going to America with her mother (played by Ljubov Agapova) and stepfather; the latter picked her mother as a "picture bride," that is, initially from a book of marriage agency photographs, after which they met in Estonia. However, the day before the trip, Lilja's mother informs her that the newlyweds will go to America first, send money to support her, and then summon her later. Lilja is understandably unhappy about the change of plans, fearing that she will have to remain alone in Russia without adult support. Her mother arranges for her sister Anna (played by Liliya Shinkaryova) to take care of Lilja; but as soon as her parents leave, Anna kicks Lilja out of the family apartment (taking the comfortable abode for herself) and transfers Lilja to a filthy small apartment that was recently vacated by a soldier who died. Nevertheless, Lilja has a boyfriend Volodya (played by Artiom Bogucharskij), who is just past puberty. Volodya's father kicks him out of his home from time to time, so Lilja allows him to stay with her. Lilja confides her troubles to a classmate Natascha (played by Elina Benenson), who suggests that she can get easy money by being picked up by men at a disco. When they go, Lilja turns down tricks, whereas her classmate earns a few hundred rubles. When Natascha's father discovers that she has a wad of cash, Natascha tells him that the money was from Lilja for turning tricks, whereupon the father escorts her to Lilja's apartment to give back the money, and a rumor spreads that Lilja is a whore. While neighborhood teenage bullies call her names, she carves the words "Lilja 4-Ever" in a bench alongside the word "Volodya" that her friend previously carved. In any case, Lilja throws away the money, disgusted. But she soon tries to retrieve the cash when she discovers that the electricity in her apartment is turned off for nonpayment of the bill. When she returns to the trashbin in the street, the cash is gone. Anna refuses to take her in, telling her to "spread her legs" as her mother did to earn her keep. Lilja then becomes a prostitute at the disco, easy prey for Andrei (played by Pavel Ponomarev), who cleverly pretends to be in love with her so that she will fly to Sweden as his bride. On the way to the airport, Andrei tells her of a change of plans, that he has to visit his mother, who has suddenly fallen sick, but that his business associate Witek will meet her at the airport and set up her accommodations and a job of picking vegetables. Upon her arrival, Witek (played by Tomas Neumann) meets her, takes her passport (as in Tricky Life), drives her to a small apartment, and then locks her in (reminiscent of the teenage female prostitute in Lino Brocka's 1988 film Macho Dancer). Although Lilja pleaded with Andrei to bring along Volodya, the latter is left behind and dies from an overdose of pills. Lilja ultimately jumps to her death after she takes advantage of the fact that the door to her apartment is left unlocked, perhaps deliberately so that she would do so. The Political Film Society has nominated Lilja 4-Ever for best film of 2003, both as an exposé and as best film raising consciousness of an important issue of human rights that has yet to receive appropriate worldwide attention. MH

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