Lilya 4-Ever

If I hadn't already been a fan of young Swedish director Moodysson after seeing his first two features – the incredibly sympathetic and uplifting Show Me Love and Together – I wonder if I would have so readily believed that his brutal third film Lilya 4-Ever has a heart.

The eponymous heroine (Oksana Akinshina) is a 16-year-old girl living in a slum in the former USSR. After her mother abandons her by running off to America with her boyfriend, Lilya gets kicked out of her apartment by a heartless aunt, loses her money, loses her friends... and that's just the beginning of her increasingly hopeless downward spiral.

It's hard to discuss the main premise of Lilya 4-Ever without spoiling the plot, as it doesn't come up until about halfway through the film, but you can imagine what a beautiful 16-year-old girl with no money and no job winds up doing in order to survive.

Moodysson's heart is in the right place, even if watching the film is a masochistic experience. And there's no denying that what he's trying to say is very important. But man, is it bleak.

Oksana Akinshina is wonderful, though, as the alternately jaded and trusting Lilya. You can't help but feel for her as the world reduces her from human being into statistic. The tragedy of her story – and the stories of countless young people like her – is heartbreaking. Equally impressive is the film's other non-professional young star, Artyom Bogucharsky, as the prepubescent lad who becomes Lilya's best and ultimately only friend. The rawness of their performances, and of Moodysson's documentary-like style, keep Lilya 4-Ever in the mind long after it's over.

All the same, I hope this director returns to happy movies again very soon.