Lilya 4-Ever (2002) is hard to watch. But the subject matter is so beautifully told, I give it a high recommendation. It is a heartbreaking and ultimately very humanistic portrait of abandonment.
"SOMEWHERE IN WHAT WAS ONCE THE SOVIET UNION."- Lilya is a sixteen year old Russian girl, and when we first meet her, she displays typical teen grumpiness towards her mother. But, as her mother informs her that she is leaving for America with Lilya's new stepfather, Lilya senses something wrong and becomes that child that just needs her mother. Her mother promises she will send money and letters and will eventually bring Lilya over, but we, the viewer, can tell that those are empty promises.
Lilya's supposed caretaker is her aunt, who promptly forces Lilya to move into a cheaper apartment, a squalid room where the previous occupants ratty belongs and odor still remain. But, she makes the best of the situation and, for awhile, enjoys the freedom, inviting over other kids to party and hanging out with her best friend Natasha and a perpetual tag along kid named Volodya. Natasha introduces her to the world of sex for money via a nightclub, but Lilya doesn't succumb to selling herself until Natasha ruins Lilya's reputation (pegging her as a whore), her mothers checks stop, her electricity is cut off, and she has no food.
Things continue to turn for the worse as Lilya learns she has been deemed an "unwanted child" by her mother and made into a welfare case. The only bright spot in her life is Volodya, who follows her like a puppy and similarly has parents that turn a blind eye towards him. A handsome young man named Andrei gives her dreams of moving to Sweden, but that promise too turns sour and quickly dissipates when Lilya arrives friendless in the foreign land and is sold into prostitution.
Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (Show Me Love) balances this heartbreaking tale between stylish slight touches of surreal symbolism and a raw, documentary-like direction. It is quite an interesting blend that works. This is intense material, but like the best of bleak cinema, for instance, Breaking the Waves, the difficult subject matter is engagingly told and never hits a false note. It pulls no punches in presenting Lilya's harsh environs, and presents a wrenching view of what children must feel like when they are faced with abandonment and an environment that gives them little to inspiration for a better life.
Perhaps most the most impressive element is the young actors. Lilya 4-Ever has some staggeringly good, natural performances, the likes of which belongs in the upper echelon of teen/adolescent acting alongside The 400 Blows and My Life as a Dog.
The DVD: Panorama Entertainment- a Region 3 Hong Kong based distributor.
Picture: Ananmorphic Widescreen. Lilya's world is a cold one, and the cinematography captures the uninviting Russian and Swedish settings quite well. A chilly look is intentional, so the film relies on very cool, muted tones, and grainier film stock. The presentation appears spot on. Having looked at screencaps from the other DVD releases, the transfer here appears to be the same, with the elements all in good shape. Good sharpness and contrast, and no glaring defects of any kind.
Sound: Dolby 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Surround options, Russian language (predominately) with optional English or Chinese subtitles. With a soundtrack of modern techno and strings, the sound gets the biggest workout. Dialogue and the limited atmospherics are also clear and well presented.
Extras: Nothin'... well, it's got a slipcase.
Conclusion: So far this fantastic film hasn't been picked up by a US distributor for DVD release. In addition to this version there is a Dutch release and a UK release, both of which offer a tad more in the extras department, but not much. This is rough dramatic material, but extremely well told, and worthwhile for drama fans who can take films that don't have a sunny horizon.