Lukas Moodysson (“Show Me Love,” “Together”) brings us yet another amazingly realistic and engaging drama about society punctuated with both humor and grittiness.
This time we’re in an unnamed Russian city that 16-year-old Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) can’t wait to leave. She’s looking forward to moving to America with her mother (Lyubov Agapova), but Mum runs off with her boyfriend and leaves Lilya behind. Abandoned and betrayed, she turns to her friend Natasha (Elina Benenson), who’s making spending money by turning tricks at the local nightclub. Lilya is rightly horrified. Then she finds herself taking care of an even younger boy (Artyom Bogucharsky) with nowhere to go. And with another mouth to feed, she gets very desperate indeed. Finally, she meets a nice guy (Pavel Ponomaryov) who invites her to move with him to Sweden. The answer to all her problems. Or is it?
The issue here is teen prostitution, and when Lilya reaches rock bottom, it is the only way to find the independence and inner resilience she so desperately needs. But there’s much, much more to the film than this, and Lilya’s series of betrayals is very hard to watch, even though she somehow keeps her sense of self. Excellent acting helps of course (Akinshina is amazing), as well as Moodysson’s pure and natural way of filmmaking.
But essentially this is an issue film, and as it examines Lilya’s loss not only of innocence, but also of love, power and self-respect, it taps into something honest and haunting. Fortunately, the film never becomes a nightmarish slog–it’s grim stuff, and it’s laid on very thickly, but Moodysson offsets it with raw humor and some surreal dream sequences that try to lift the spirits, as it were. And perhaps the most shocking imagery of all is the view that Western Europe can be just as desolate and cruel as even the worst corner of Russia. Probably more so.