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'Lilya 4-Ever'

Friday, August 15, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Among the blessings brought by capitalist democracy to the former Soviet Union was a skyrocketing increase in prostitution, accompanying the one in unemployment.

:'Lilya 4-Ever'

RATING: R in nature for strong adult sexual content

STARRING: Oksana Akinshina, Artiom Bogucharskij

DIRECTOR: Lukas Moodysson


There could be no prettier human face on it than that of Oksana Akinshina, who plays the title role in a very beautiful, very disturbing film called "Lilya 4-Ever." Those are the words our 16-year-old heroine is carving into a bench as a nasty group of neighbor boys taunts her for being a whore.

Lilya is, in fact, not a whore. A slutty girlfriend has falsely planted that rumor, to take suspicion away from herself. Lilya is something much worse: a naively religious child, whose single mother has run off with a man to America, abandoning Lilya with the false promise of sending for her soon.

"Soon" never comes. But Lilya's eviction soon does. From a relatively nice apartment in her gritty backwater city, she is demoted to a filthy slum hole and the tender mercies of a tough old aunt.

What's she going to do for friends?

She's going to be "adopted" by 11-year-old Volodya (Artiom Bogucharskij), an abused, homeless waif in even worse shape than Lilya -- allowing him to sleep on her couch and sharing his fantasies of the good life in heaven, if not on earth.

What's she going to do for money?

Sell herself, if she and the boy are to eat. Lilya just wants a roof and some heat. Volodya just wants Lilya and a basketball.

We just want a happy resolution to their crisis, and we think they've found one in the form of Andrei (Pavel Ponomarev) -- the first sweet and honorable male to take an interest in our girl. But all is not gold that glitters.

Director Lukas Moodysson, in this joint Swedish-Russian tragedy, explores a post-apocalyptic Russia -- as if after the nuclear deluge. It is Lilya's instead of Dante's Inferno, full of wrenching separations. Brace yourself for some pretty hideous sex scenes: The girl's post-rape reward is a trip to McDonald's.

Packing and unpacking her framed guardian angel, Akinshina will break your heart. Three small moles form a gorgeous little constellation on the left side of her face. You can't take your eyes off her -- or the sadly mischievous face of little Bogucharskij, longing to take care of her. Their rooftop romping alternates with glue-sniffing. They have a terrifically moving relationship.

They speak in clear, simple (subtitled) Russian. The Swedish side of the production manifests itself in a series of Bergmanesque necromantic conversations: The film and the kids have a dreamy Elysian Fields fantasy. But who down below is going to catch these fallen angels?

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