Lilja 4-ever is a 2002 Swedish-Danish drama film directed by Lukas Moodysson, widely regarded as one of the most depressing films ever made.
Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is a 16-year-old girl living in the slums of the former Soviet Union. As the film opens, she is enjoying life as best she can but is really looking forward to moving to America with her mother.
But then her mother leaves poor Lilya to fend for herself. And her only other relative is abusive towards her, saying the only thing she can do is prostitute herself. This Lilya does, and she also starts squatting in a flat with a local boy named Volodya.
However, she gets a boyfriend named Andrei, who offers her a passport and a new life in Sweden, and it only goes downhill from there.
Did we also mention this was Very Loosely Based on a True Story?
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Volodya's dad drinks, beats his 11-years-old son and eventually kicks him out of their home.
- Adults Are Useless: Adults are either showed to be absent and weak or actively trying to bring misery on the protagonists.
- Lilya's mom. As if abandoning her wasn't enough, she later revokes her parenthood of her.
- Ambiguous Ending: The ending in montaged in a way that would give rise to two interpretations. Either Lilya going to Sweden was all just a nightmare she had as we see her reliving key moments from her time in Russia while making different choices this time around. Or the suicide was real and we see her happily playing basketball with Volodya in the afterlife.
- Bait the Dog: The film. Lilya thinks she's finally leaving Russia for good and moving to Sweden with Andrei, she gets lured by human traffickers instead.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted heavily in the end, where we see Lilya bloodied and battered on several areas of her faces following assault from her pimps.
- Big "NO!": Angel!Volodya shouts as he tries to interrupt Lilya's suicide.
- Break the Cutie: The Crapsack World she lives completely breaks Lilya, who is never spared to be a mere plaything for the people around her.
- Break the Haughty: Lilya is pretty much a Bratty Teenage Daughter at the beginning, but still doesn't deserve the hell she goes through by no one's standards.
- Cassandra Truth: Volodya. Granted, his warnings about Andrei probably were based on jealousy, but in the end, he was right.
- Crapsack World: Russia does not come off well in this movie at all.
- Darker and Edgier: Lukas Moodyson is best known abroad for his drama Fucking Åmål which featured a blooming lesbian relationship and the consequent Gayngst, but ultimately the protagonists come to terms with their sexuality and earn their happy ending. This one instead is a huge Break the Cutie story, which features human trafficking as the main subject.
- Despair Event Horizon; For Volodya it's Lilya leaving him behind. For Lilya it's being forced to prostitution again in Sweden.
- Died Happily Ever After: After Lilya kills herself to escape a life of forced prostitution, her and her young friend Volodya (who committed suicide earlier in the film) appear as angels playing basketball.
- Disappeared Dad: Lilya's father abandoned her mother as soon as she told him she was pregnant.
- Driven to Suicide: Volodya, via pill overdose, and Lilya, via jumping from a bridge.
- Eagleland: Type 1, Lilya is enamored with the idea of moving from in the Soviet Union to America.
- Evil All Along: Andrei.
- False Friend: Andrei pretends to court Lilya to get her out of Russia and sold her to prostitution.
- Also Natasha, who hangs out with Lilya but has no qualms about framing her when her father almost finds out she secretly sells herself to gain extra cash.
- Foreign Language Title: Lilja 4-ever.
- From Bad to Worse: The movie!
- Gratuitous Disco Sequence: Lilya is shown having some fun at the disco with Natasha until the latter starts to pick up clients. Later subverted when Lilya prostitutes herself by picking up random people there.
- Guardian Angel: Volodya becomes Lilya's guardian angel after his suicide.
- Hate Sink: Alot. First we have Lilya's mom who not only abandons her, but outright disowns her later in the film. Then we have Lilya's aunt, who doesn't give a rat's ass about Lilya and then kicks her out forcing her into prostitution. And there's Volodya's dad who abuses and shouts at him. Then there are Lilya's former male friends who betray her after they find out she's been prostituting herself and they later rape her. And there's Andrea, who pretends to care about Lilya but is actually using her to sell her into sex slavery. And finally there's Lilya's pimp, who beats her, rapes her and uses her as a sex slave for other men. Lilya and Volodya are pretty much the only decent characters in the movie, while everyone else is an irredeemable scumbag.
- How We Got Here: The movie starts with Lilya running away from her captors and contemplating suicide by jumping off a bridge.
- Inspired by...: See Very Loosely Based on a True Story below.
- Karma Houdini: Lilya's neglectful mother, Lilya's aunt, Volodya's abusive father, the boys who gang-raped Lilya, Lilya's pimp, and Andrei pretty much all get away with their horrible actions and never get punished.
- Letters 2 Numbers: The "4" in the movie title.
- Magical Realism: Despite being very realistic, Volodya appears after death as an angel and talks with Lilya.
- Never Got to Say Goodbye: Lilya tries to say goodbye to Volodya, but he is hurt that she is leaving and runs away before she can.
- Once More, with Clarity!: The film starts with the image of a beaten Lilya running through the city, heading towards a motorway bridge, while Rammstein's "Mein Herz Brennt" plays in the background. We see the image again near the end when it becomes the chronological present, where it's revealed that she's escaping her life of prostitution and moments away from ending her life in general.
- Parental Abandonment: Lilya's father only courted her mother to sleep with her, and then proceeded to move to Moscow and sever all ties he had with her mother once she told him he was pregnant. Lilya's mother abandons her when she moves to America with her new boyfriend, and her Aunt (who was told to watch over Lilya after her mother left), while not necessarily moving away or anything, does essentially leave her to her own devices, telling her to whore herself out if she needs money to keep the electricity in her flat.
- Parental Substitute: Lilya (temporarily) becomes this for Volodya. Lilya's aunt is supposed to be this for her, but she gives up rather quickly.
- Rape as Drama: This film subverts any concept of Unproblematic Prostitution one may have and shows how horrible and traumatizing is to have to sell themselves and then being coerced into prostitution several times in a day.
- Rape Discretion Shot: Horribly averted. Lilya is raped several times onscreen, with the camera focusing on her rapists' faces as they're having an orgasm.
- Scenery Gorn: The abandoned Soviet building where Lilya and Volodya hide to play is quite creepy. It used to be an office where most of the town had worked but since the perestroika it has been abandoned and forgotten like pretty much of the Soviet buildings spread around Eastern Europe.
- Sensual Slavs: Deconstructed, considering the main character is a poor Russian girl who is forced into prostitution.
- Sex Slave: How unfortunately Lilya ends up.
- Shower of Angst: After being pimped out by her captors, Lilya shows a Thousand-Yard Stare while taking a bath.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Lilya and Volodya as angels in Heaven play basketball, laughing, while sad violin music reminds us that they both killed themselves as children.
- Together in Death: The film ends with Lilja and Voldoya playing basketball happily together in the afterlife.
- Trauma Conga Line: Lilya is first abandoned by her mother, then left by her aunt to fend for herself, then runs out of money and starts prostitute herself, then gets harassed and raped...it never stops.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Lilya smokes, drinks, huffs glue, and prostitutes herself (though the latter one she does out of necessity). Volodya is also worryingly fine with doing drugs at age 11.
- Unproblematic Prostitution: Natasha sees no problem with occasionally selling herself to gain extra cash, unless her father finds out.
- Subverted with Lilya. She is visibly disgusted by her clients, and is very much vulnerable to being harassed or beaten, but goes through it anyway because she desperately needs money.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The general beats of Lilya's life — excited for a better life in the USA, abandoned by mother, entered relationship with older man who promised her a better life in Sweden, locked in apartment by other man upon arriving, forced to prostitute herself until she escapes and commits suicide via jumping off a bridge — are based on the real life of the Lithuanian girl Danguolė Rasalaitė. You read that right. This actually happened.
- Visual Title Drop: What Lilya and Volodya carve into the bench.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: Lilya is showed discretely vomiting after her first intercourse with a client.
- Wretched Hive: The New Russia seems nothing like a nice place to live. You'd try to get out too.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Twice. When Lilya thinks she's leaving to America with her mother, mum instead leaves her behind. When she thinks she's going to start a new life in Sweden with Andrei, she gets lured by human traffickers instead.