Saturday, August 20, 2005

Lilja 4-ever (Moodysson, 2002)

One of the true delights for a movie lover is being introduced to a young filmmaker who has a confident and unique voice, someone whose early work makes the promise of a lifetime of challenging and thought-provoking art. After my first exposure to Lukas Moodysson, Together -- the wholly satisfying blend of comedy, politics and nuanced character study -- I was entirely convinced that I had just witnessed the work of a new superstar. Moodysson brought an entire household of unusual and specific characters to life and masterfully wove together several compelling throughlines into a touching statement on the difficulty of sharing our existence with other humans. Together contained characters that always seemed to act in a way that I could not anticipate because they were driven by complex human emotions and not the dull mechanics of a screenplay.

It is thus with great disappointment that I report that after watching Moodysson's next film, Lilja 4-ever, I am much more reserved about proclaiming his genius. Moodysson is still certainly a gifted filmmaker, but here he seems to directly contradict all that was persuasively hopeful in Together by presenting an ultra-nasty world view in which the only thing to look forward to is death. Indeed, Lilja 4-ever is not unlike a film from Lars von Trier's 'Golden Heart' trilogy; but, whereas Trier balances his pessimism with humor and resonant metaphor, Moodysson comes across like someone parading around in borrowed clothes that are about two sizes off. There are things to like about Lilja 4-ever, particularly the pitch-perfect lead performance by Oksana Akinshina, but the film shows its true colors when a key life-or-death decision is underscored by exhilarating hard rock music. Indeed, Lilja rarely makes a decision that feels logical so much as she makes the decision that will place her precisely in the right place for the viewer to soak up the maximum amount of teen degradation.

I believe wholeheartedly that there are young women in Lilja's position, trapped and unwanted for anything more than their bodies, but Moodysson is not interested in making significant connections to the social conditions which placed Lilja in her position. He is not interested in creating a work of metaphor or poetry, apart from some awkward angels wings that could have been used at the local church Christmas pageant. He's not even really intereseted in painting a picture of an unusual or compelling character. Instead, it's teen hell as roller coaster ride. There are some ups and downs and individual moments that are quite thrilling, but ultimately, the car drops you off back in the same place you started. You may have a little adrenaline flowing, but you really haven't travelled anywhere. The only thing to take away from Lilja 4-ever seems to be bad people make bad things happen to good people. Considering the arbitrary nature of all these unfortunate events, Lilja might as well be a character in Lemony Snicket.



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