Sadly, Lukas Moodysson's endlessly depressing movie about teenage alienation has many more horrors in store for its heroine, 16-year-old Lilya (Oksana Akinshina). The film begins earnestly enough: Lilya's mother (a badly miscast Lyubov Agapova) is shipping out from their dreary Russian suburb for America, as she's a mail order bride (though she certain doesn't look it; the pixie Akinshina fits the bill far more aptly). Lilya assumes she's going too, flipping off the local shopkeeper in farewell, only mom springs it on her that she's staying behind to "come later."
The only thing that does arrive is Lilya's aunt, kicking her out of their comparatively nice flat and into the hovel of a recently deceased geriatric. Then comes a letter from mom, disowning poor Lilya. Then the power gets shut off. Then her money runs out. Then she turns to prostitution. Then she gets raped, endlessly.
Then you start to ask yourself, what is the point of all this?
The "Life sucks, then you die" movie has been made an awful lot before. Relocating it to the former Soviet Union adds little to the tale. Moodysson (whose 1998 film Fucking Åmål explored a nearly identical character arc) uses the harsh realities of European child abduction and prostitution to take this film beyond the usual Down-and-Out Post-Cold War Russian Woman movie (see Last Resort), but his storytelling is so repetitive and juvenile it's hard to feel the tragedy underlying Lilya's story.
Case in point: Frame one introduces a battered Lilya, running away from something, being filmed by a nauseating shaky-cam and set to a pounding, German death metal soundtrack. Moodysson sets the scene as if we should expect another Run Lola Run, and soon he switches us into an off rendition of Kids, only without the morality lessons.
Aside from McDonald's, Lilya's loves include sniffing glue and hanging out with her barely pubescent pal Voldya (Artyom Bogucharsky). Like Requiem for a Dream, we don't even remotely identify with our hero. Instead we merely wonder why the hell she can't get her act together. Lilya's a brat -- an extraordinarily cute brat, but still a brat -- and by the end I wasn't feeling sorry for her as much as understanding why mom wanted to leave her behind after 16 years of dealing with her shit.
Without a doubt, Moodysson generates some real power in this film, with his sweaty, grunting johns and abusive kidnappers. Akinshina is a real find, completely owning this film and appearing in nearly every frame: I get the feeling that she really does like a Big Mac more than anything else on earth. I only wish Moodysson had given her character more of a backbone than that to hang her soulful performance on.
Aka Lilja 4-ever.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 23rd August 2002
Distributed by: Newmarket Films
Production compaines: Memfis Film, Det Danske Filminstitut, Film i Väst
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 58 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Producer: Lars Jönsson
Screenwriter: Lukas Moodysson