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Lilya 4-Ever

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson has yet to put a foot wrong. The female-bonding high-school charmer Show Me Love was a delightful start, its promise amply confirmed by Together, a witty and wise portrait of messy lives among the high ideals in a ’70s leftist commune. His latest is made of somewhat firmer fibre however, venturing into the scrag-end of the former Soviet Union for a vivid, properly distressing report on young lives enduring the worst that (in)humanity pushes their way. Lilja (16-year old Russian actress Oksana Akinsjina, simply remarkable) is an ordinary schoolgirl stuck in a rundown housing estate. Things seem to be improving when mum says they’ll both be going to America with the latter’s new boyfriend. However, when the mother and her partner leave on their own, Lilja’s right to fear the worst. She’s left behind in the supposed care of an untrustworthy relative, and soon has to fend for herself. School is swiftly a thing of the past, prostitution beckons, so-called friends drift away, and her only companionship comes from glue-sniffing pubescent stray Volodya (Artiom Bogucharskij, also memorable). So far, so grim, but when Lilja meets Andrei (Pavel Ponomarjov) at a club, she almost remembers what it’s like to have a normal life. They go out together, they laugh, he treats her with respect, and there’s even the prospect of going to Sweden together. All she has to do is go on ahead to Stockholm by herself . . .
It’s hardly giving too much away to suggest that her new life does not fulfil all its promises. What is unexpected, however, is how sheer film-making grace brings renewed impact to the sort of social-realist study in deprivation one imagines TV documentaries have already done to death. This is committed, virtuoso, deeply affecting cinema.
(Sweden, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby/dts digital stereo. 105 mins.)

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