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Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Lilya & Lucia
Saw Lilya 4 Ever after seeing several disparate reviewers praise it highly. It is very powerful, with a go-for-broke performance by Oksana Akinshina in the title role of a Russian teen in a dead-end city (filmed in Tallinn, Estonia). Lilya, left behind by her mother who's chasing the American dream and an aunt who just wants her apartment, first gets involved in prostitution to survive, then is lured to Sweden by traffickers. Not to give too much away, it's a pretty tough story, with feral adults preying on teens. The children of the projects see no future in Russia and believe that "life is elsewhere", across the sea. But if Malmo, the Swedish city in which Lilya becomes trapped, is slightly cleaner than Tallinn, it's no less hellish for being free of weeds and broken windows.
Comparisons to Bresson, Lars Von Trier, Wenders and others have been made, but at the end the film feels somewhat one-dimensional. There's no letup, no love -- only sexual exploitation and violence. More important, no laughter or hope -- only glue-sniffing and vodka binges. Soundtrack: Rammstein meets Tatu. Still, it does make me want to see the director Lukas Moodysson's earler film Together, a comedy about commune-dwellers in seventies Sweden. At least, I think so.
Several women at one of my workplaces recommended Lucia y el Sexo (Sex and Lucia), now out on DVD/video. The title is misleading (Lucia isn't as central a character as Lilya, and although there is quite a bit of carnality (both "real" and in the imaginations of all the characters -- they are Spanish, after all), Lucia is also about story-telling, parenthood, time, chance and destiny, the restorative power of sea. It features circular plotlines, Oedipal moments and a pinch of magical realism -- as in Lilya the dead are a continuing presence to the living.
So Julio Medem's Lucia is as different in temperature from Lilya as the Baltic from the Balearics. Women are their own agents of desire here, unlike in Lilya's world of relentless exploitation. This makes for a much richer movie -- I thought of Kieslowski's Red, of Y Tu Mama Tambien and a wonderful flick from Macedonia Before the Rain. As in the movies of Almodovar -- one of the actors plays the crazy nurse Benigno in Talk to Her -- tragedy and comedy are never far apart. Worth a look.