The harrowing Lilya-4-Ever, directed by Lukas Moodysson.
by Lindsay and Francesca Levy
The F Word (United Kingdom)
This is the latest reproduction of email exchanges between two American friends living apart. This time they disagree on their topic of choice; the film Lilya 4-Ever by director Lukas Moodysson. Lindsay saw the film in London on Tuesday 29th April as part of the Women's Library film and debate at the Barbican Centre. Francesca Levy saw the film on 15th May, at Cinema Village, in New York City.
I saw Lilya 4-Ever last night and walked out before the last half-hour because it was so revoltingly violent, gratuitous, and one-dimensional. The fact is, there were redeeming things about it, points it was trying to make, but it all washed away behind the half-dozen rape scenes and at least a dozen other sexual exploitation scenes. I fail to see what the critics do: that the movie is not exploitative, but rather shames the victimizers in the film as well as the viewer. Sure it's an unflinching look at the child sex trade but really it isn't, because that aspect of it is swallowed up by the same recurring scene, and the whole movie occurs in one tone, without any need to add dimension to any characters besides the angelic protagonists. As far as I'm concerned it's only distinction from the billion other movies with horrible rape scenes is that in Lilya 4-Ever there are so damn many of them, and they're so graphically filmed.
I'm afraid I completely disagree with you. I thought the film was really powerful and not gratuitous at all considering the way so many rape and exploitation scenes focus on nakedness and the sexual act. My perception was partly influenced by seeing the film as part of a debate put on by the Women's Library with a panel of people who work directly with women who have been trafficked into the sex industry saying it was absolutely true to the life experiences they have heard over and over again. I also don't see how the protagonists were unquestionably angelic. Lilya was disrespectful to adults, didn't go to school or work (until she started sex work), sniffed glue and hung around other kids who did the same. She is not a good kid in most people's eyes and a lot of adults would consider her to be deserving of some of the neglect she receives. She is the poster 'problem child' that our entire society deems in need of an adult to set her straight and make her contribute to the world.
The main thing I felt the film addressed was the absolute lack of responsibility adults take for young people who need their help or even those they think need 'sorting out'. Her parents and family didn't give a shit about her and social services, when blatantly informed that she had no other guardian, failed to provide her with even the most basic support. There were so many points at which an adult could have intervened and saved her from her fate. But they didn't. Day after day I deal with 16-year-olds whose parents are fed up with them and willing to make them homeless because they think they've done their part and that someone else will take care of them.
I think that was why the film really hit home with me and I was relieved that something that will be seen by a wide audience was able to express the desperation and fear young people feel when they are neglected and thrown out into the world before they are ready. Mostly I hope it will be a reality check for people as to how it is almost inevitable that someone will be there to exploit them when they are.
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