Lilya - not 4-Ever?

I may have mentioned this in a post before (after a while you DO begin to repeat yourself!), but if you haven’t done already – check out Lilya 4-Ever. It is, in my humble opinion, quite simply one the best films of this (or any) decade. (Go on,  name a better one!)

All depends what you look for in a film of course. I must confess that anything combining a hefty portion of modern ultra-neo-realism set in a bleakly believable post-Soviet setting with a head-blasting techno soundtrack (most definitely NOT Balearic fun but threatening atmospherics) gets my vote!

(OK, it’s probably for fans of “modern misery” cinema, but if you like Bela Tarr, Aki Kaurismaki, Michael Haneke and the Dardenne brothers, definitely try Lukas Moodysson, L4E’s director). What for me distinguishes Moodysson’s “Lilya” is the way he takes on an incredibly challenging subject – sex trafficking – and brilliantly shows you how a street-smart teenager from a country like Russia/Moldova can so easily be tricked into the most abject sex slavery.

The gangs are ruthless, organised and violent. A poor, powerless individual like Lilya basically stands no chance. She goes from someone desperate for a little fun in a nightclub she can barely afford to get into, to someone desperately believing the promises of a “glamorous” boyfriend who can arrange a “job” for her in a western European country.

At this point she’s sucked in. As soon as she gets to her new life (in Denmark/Sweden/Italy/UK/Ireland) she’s relieved of her passport, beaten up, raped and locked in a flat and – in all likelihood (though I don’t think Moodysson’s film includes this factor) – hooked on drugs to further subdue her. Forced prostitution is her new life. Add the fact that she’s been convinced that the authorities will treat her like a criminal (which in fact they might) and that she has no money and probably doesn’t speak the local language, then you get a truly scary insight into how vulnerable a real-life equivalent of Lilya will be.

I think Moodysson’s film succeeds on every level. It ends with a stunning scene where Lilya finally escapes her tormenters and is seen running down the side of a huge road in an anonymous European setting. The death metal soundtrack is heavy, doom-laden and incredibly intense. The end.

It’s right that Lilya 4-Ever doesn’t show a simple resolution. In Britain the police have mounted high-profile raids on brothels to “rescue” trafficked women and girls – fine, but what happens next? In the past the women have been treated as criminals and, after languishing in immigration detention, have been unceremoniously returned to their countries of origin. And: yep, they end up in the same housing complexes where the trafficking gangs quickly learn of their reappearance and move in again.

Yesterday the government ratified the European Convention Against Trafficking, a move Amnesty’s been campaigning over for years. So – well done HMG.

But, read Heather Harvey, Amnesty’s stop violence against women expert, writing on today’s Comment is Free on why the government is still selling short the real-life Lilyas that get trafficked and brutalised in ordinary places like Solihull, Barnsley and Croydon.

Meanwhile, check out Lilya 4-Ever on DVD (if I’m allowed a commercial plug: I favour the brilliant 60,500-film club Sofa Cinema). As you will have gathered, it’s not “It’s Wonderful Life”, but it is real life.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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