Sixteen year-old Lilya lives in a grim town somewhere in the former Soviet Union. Abandoned by her mother, she struggles to fend for herself, finding comfort in her friendship with a younger boy, Volodya.
Lukas Moodysson's last film, the much-loved art house hit Together, was a nostalgic, bittersweet comedy that started with an Abba tune. However, Lilya 4-Ever's opening scene is scored with the industrial metal stylings of Rammstein; a telling indication of how different the two films are.
Lilya 4-Ever is the anti-Together, a brutal social commentary on the neglect and abuse of young people. As Moodysson is raging against a system that tolerates such abuse, there are few joyous moments and no visceral thrills to be had here.
On one level, it's a politically direct film, reminiscent of Ken Loach at his most socially aware. On another, it's the darkest of fairy tales, complete with wicked aunts and guardian angels, and a redemptive 'happy ending' sacrificed in favour of one that's ambiguous, almost whimsical. At its centre is Oksana Akinshina's astonishing performance as the title character, a doe-eyed dreamer betrayed by hope.
Lilya 4-Ever is undeniably depressing, but its bravery, commitment and depth mark its brilliance.
Reviewed by Michael Hayden