When we first see Lilya, a sparky-looking Russian sixteen-year-old “born the same day as Britney Spears, only four years apart,” she’s preparing to throw herself off a highway overpass. Lilya! What could have brought you to this?! Jesus, where to begin. You’ve grown up in a depressing post-Soviet housing block. Your chief entertainment with your so-called friends–some of whom will later rape you–is huffing glue and listening to terrible techno music. Your best friend is a a little homeless kid who lives in an abandoned military facility. Your mother contrives to move to the USA with her pig of a boyfriend, promises that you’re to go too but at the last moment literally leaves you behind in the dirt, and then later writes a letter to social services formally renouncing her guardianship of you.
To top it off, some Moodysson-ofabitch Swedish director shows up to document all your troubles with a horrifically depressing script for you to slog through and a super-verite handheld camera that bounces around so much you need two Dramamine just to get through a scene.
Thus the first seven minutes of our evening’s entertainment. It gets way, way worse.
When the promised letters and money from mother never arrive, Lilya goes to see her elderly aunt, who kindly advises, “Do what your mother did: Go into town and spread your legs.” This Lilya does, as a last resort. At the club, between tricks, she meets a seemingly nice guy who takes her on innocent dates (bumper cars! McDonalds!). He seems like a Prince Charming, but in fact he’s setting her up to sell her into slavery in a Swedish housing block that looks a hell of a lot like the one in Russia she’s “escaped” from.
This was one of the most difficult movies to watch I have ever encountered. The DVD case said it was 1:49 long; at 1:00 I was already feeling sick to my stomach and at 1:25, after what might be the most disturbing sequence I’ve ever seen in a movie–a series of johns in extremis shot from Lilya’s POV–I had to turn off the set and take a walk around the block.
This movie isn’t a a documentary, but everything it shows is happening right now, all over the world. The only implausible part is that Lilya and her friend get to play basketball in heaven when their suffering ends.
P.S. When you search for “human trafficking” on Google, this ad pops up in the sidebar:
Whatever you’re looking for
you can get it on eBay.