Lukas Moodysson is a Swedish 30-something poet-turned-filmmaker who won a Golden Teddy at Berlin in 1999 for his outstanding debut feature, Fucking Amal, which told the story of life in a Swedish border town from the perspective of a teenaged lesbian. Needless to say, this was not your average choice for a feature debut from a straight man. He then went on to direct a tale about hippies, communes and free love in Together, a huge hit on the festival circuit. In both films, Moodysson showed strong skills in telling stories from a teen perspective whilst eliciting naturalistic performances from his actors.

Lilya 4-“ever, Moodysson’s third feature, also tells a story from a teenager’s perspective but this time round it is an intense, deeply moving study of sexual slavery and human trafficking. Certainly not lightweight material to say the least and not the first film to delve into an issue that has grown in commensurate proportions with the decline of the former communist bloc. Paul Pawlikowski also dealt with sexual slave trade in his film, Last Resort (2000).

Moodysson’s two previous films pale in comparison to Lilya 4-“ever, which knocks you over with a power rarely seen in films these days and harkens back to other naturalistic films such as De Sica’s Bicycle Thief. Young Russian actress Oksana Akinshina puts in an unforgettable performance as Lilya. Displaying an emotional range from brash teenager to vulnerable child, she has deservedly won many awards at film festivals around the world. This is only Akinshina’s third feature film role since she made her debut playing the lead in Sisters (2001), directed by Russian Sergei Bodrov and a hit at the Sydney Film Festival last year.

Although Lilya 4-“ever is essentially an issues film, the relentlessly heavy-going material is transcended by the director’s deft, light touch.

Moodysson, reputed to be both a Christian and an anarchist, says he originally wanted to make a film about God’s love. He doesn’t say how he managed to make the leap from this concept to a film about sexual slavery but he does infuse the film with a spiritual sense that audiences will either see as odd or lyrical.

What is impressive about this film is its complete lack of voyeurism. Instead, we are flung into hell and get to taste the pure horror experienced by a na? young girl traded for her body. Moodysson shows his maturity and mastery by counterbalancing the unending tragedy of Lilya’s life with the tenderness of the relationship she has with an 11-year-old boy played by newcomer Artiom Bogucharskij.

The film was actually shot in the Estonian town of Paldiski, the site of a former Russian nuclear submarine base known locally as the pentagon and an hour’s bus ride from the capital Tallin. It was a no-go area under the Soviet regime and simply appeared as a blank on maps. Ulf Brantas’s (Fucking Amal, Together) cinematography brilliantly conveys the crumbling despair of a people and a place abandoned to their own fate. The soundtrack is also outstanding, featuring everything from the German thrash sounds of Rammstein’s Mein Herz Brennt to Hildegard Von Bingen.

Lilya 4-“ever is not lightweight entertainment, rather a damning indictment of communism and its failed replacement, capitalism. Despite this, the film has won all of Sweden’s top honours and is its nomination for the 2004 Academy Awards. Ingmar Bergman is right, Moodysson is showing all the skills of a future master director and on this basis alone the film should be widely seen.

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