Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lilya 4-Ever (Lilja 4-ever)

LILYA 4-EVER (Lilja 4-ever)       A      
Sweden  Denmark  (109 mi)  2003  d:  Lukas Moodysson       

Childhood is greatly sacrificed in the world today. Children are very much the weak link of the chain. If you want to study the world you should study the most vulnerable parts of the world.
—Lukas Moodysson

After Together, I wanted to make a completely different film, and I started writing a script which has some similarities with the finished version of Lilya 4-Ever, except that it takes place in a completely different part of the world, with completely different characters, but maybe it asks some of the same questions. Then one day I was standing in my living room and it was like a big rock fell down on my head. The film came to me in a couple of seconds, all the scenes and everything with the exception that it was intended to be a more religious film. It was originally about the way that God takes part or doesn't take part in the world today. It was very literally about Jesus next to this girl Lilya. That part was overtaken by the character of the little boy Volodya. If I was simplifying the process, I was thinking that it was very difficult to write about Jesus. It doesn't mean that I lost the religious thread completely but it had a more substantial place in the film at one time. I think it's interesting to think that Volodya took the place of Jesus. Just like Jesus he comes to this planet as a human-being. This time he comes as an abused child and he walks next to another abused child. That idea interests me.
—Lukas Moodysson

Now, dear children, pay attention:
I am the voice from the pillow.
I have brought you something.
I ripped it from my chest.

They come to you in the night
And steal your small hot tears.
They wait until the moon awakes
And put them in my cold veins.

—Rammstein, “Mein Herz Brennt” Rammstein Mein Herz brennt on Vimeo (5:05)

In a film like this, so intelligent, well-written, well-acted, all points of view are valid, where some may be more intensely personal than others, which is exactly how this film feels—intensely personal, sparing no one, as we are all in this same predicament, together.  Many sing the delightful praises of Together (Tillsammans) (2000), while no less than Ingmar Bergman has called Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål) (1998) a masterpiece, but this film may be the director’s best work, where Moodysson's home grown optimism grows darker, largely due to the way he confronts socially relevant issues, creating a crushing portrait of post-Communist disillusionment, where despite the grimness of the subject, the film has a very naturalistic feel, arising out of real life’s most dire circumstances, the growing teenage sex trafficking industry, where current statistics indicate one-third of all prostitutes in Southeast Asia are underage, between the ages of 12 and 17, 40% in Thailand, and a quarter of a million in Brazil.  Given the illegal nature of the operation, much of it run by organized crime, estimates on those children kidnapped and exploited into prostitution or pornography range anywhere from 2 to 5 million, with more than a million new recruits each year.  Despite the prevalence, only in the last decade has this been elevated to a worldwide human rights violation, where child sex tourism has become part of a growing multi-billion dollar industry.  Moodysson’s film is successful in inspiring a personal sense of urgency that contrasts the alleged safety and protection of our relatively smug lives with the largely unseen horrors — the unstoppable, unspeakable acts — that continue to take place *against* children here in this country, or around the world, every second, minute by minute, more horrors, no neighborhood is spared, where one appreciates the immediacy this director brings to a subject that is filled with heartbreak and demoralization when it happens to you. 

This film bears a resemblance with the nearly unwatchable 9-minute rape sequence in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible (Irréversible) (2002), but here the child sexual victimization continues for an uncountable number of days, weeks, and months, leading ultimately to the same end.  The violence is portrayed with a punishing montage of assault after assault of male bodies.  In Irreversible (Irréversible), the assault is accompanied by the unforgettable sound of the woman’s anguish, while here the girl is silent, while the sounds and noises of the assembly line of men is a violent, continuous punishment to the senses, one of the most despairing sequences anyone could endure.  Imagine being in her position, the film suggests.  Then multiply that by the thousands or millions of teens around the world in similar situations, and only then does one begin to imagine the magnitude of what's being examined in this film.  Who's even talking about this subject?  It's rarely brought up in politics, public discussions, or utilized as a film subject.  Where else has it been portrayed with the same degree of thoroughness?  What's unbearable here are the consequences where this leads, as there are so many disastrous ramifications, not the least of which is rampant drug addiction or child suicide.  Even in the best middle class neighborhoods, families with suicide victims are ostracized, where children are turned into outcasts, as other kids simply ignore them, even though “they” haven’t done anything.  The incidents themselves are never mentioned and the families are usually too embarrassed to speak of them, where not much has changed in this arena, much as we would love to claim otherwise.  

Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is only 16, and in Moodysson's hands, she is meant to stand for millions of other children who are all but invisible.  Particularly effective is Lilya's act of kindness to Volodya (Artyom Bogucharsky), a young boy that is her only friend, delivering on her promise to give him a terrific birthday present, feeling heartfelt, with no strings attached, an intentional contrast against the horrid example set by the adults in her life, and a sign of hope.  Actually there were little brief offerings of hope throughout this film.  Once can’t help but love the innocent interplay between the two abandoned children, also the imagery of an equally innocent heaven.  But for a 16 year old, who's not even old enough to be allowed entrance into the theater, she continually has “hopes” of America, of Sweden, of getting out of school, of finding a friend, of getting away, of getting a job, of finding love, of being free. Oksana Akinshina’s performance is simply stunning, even more so because she doesn’t appear selfish or self-centered, like most adolescents, but remains kind, still innocent, all the more significant for the unbelievable sequence of living behind a locked door.  One can barely contain the revulsion, witnessing what no one should ever have to endure, but it’s impossible to turn away from the revolt and disgust happening before our eyes.  In the duty-free shop at the airport, where she was left on her own, and she was thinking of dressing herself up for the trip, one is reminded of the Jews who similarly dressed in their finest, having no idea what was in store for them during their hellish WWII transport to the gas chambers.  The film is an unbearable witness of cruelty to children, shown with astonishing realism, thinking of all the others, unseen, continuously invisible.  Is there anything sadder than a teenager committing suicide? 

One must be impressed with Moodysson’s uncompromising determination to resolutely *refuse* to shy away from this material:  “This film is dedicated to the millions of children around the world exploited by the sex trade.”  Well it's a good deal more than that.  The severity of the subject matter, which includes an extremely naturalistic portrait of two teen suicides, is in fact heartbreakingly relentless, and is justifiably downbeat throughout, one of the better films on teen suicide, actually laying down a legitimate argument in favor of taking one’s life, in contrast to, say the Dardenne’s ROSETTA, (1999).  While never suggesting one should, the film respects the indisputable fact that so many children do decide to take their own lives, asking how can that be, bringing the audience to the brink of life and death, and in that vein, it bears a very strong resemblance, at least in the seriousness of tone and subject matter, with Bresson’s Mouchette (1967) and Fassbinder’s IN A YEAR OF THIRTEEN MOONS (1978).  In the latter film, which deals with an adult suicide, the story follows the final 5 days in a man’s life, laying a groundwork so that no further days will follow, a decision that is (to quote Fassbinder himself):  "somehow understandable, or perhaps is even acceptable.”
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light...     —Dylan Thomas, 1951, Do not go gentle into that good night- Poets.org - Poetry, Poems ...

We the living need to carry a good deal of that rage, or is it outrage?
Like the toxic smoke billowing from the rancid smokestacks
at the beginning and end of this film,
supposedly from Moodysson's hometown of Malmo,
the noise of German metal band Rämmstein
rages against an endless and empty sky, 
“My Heart Burns!!!” Rammstein Mein Herz brennt on Vimeo (5:05)…

...to whoever's listening

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