Following his affectionately amusing study of life in a 70s hippie commune, Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson returns with this intense portrait of the misery endured by an Eastern European teenager, who find herself sold into sexual slavery.
Lilya (Oksana Akinshina is a 16-year-old Russian girl who lives "somewhere in the former Soviet Union". Her mother has already departed to the States with a new boyfriend, and Lilya has been left behind to fend for herself.
Forced to live in a freezing, decrepit flat by a greedy aunt who takes over the family apartment, and without any money, Lilya finds some consolation in her friendship with an abused young boy, Volodya (Artiom Bogucharskij).
A charming stranger (Pavel Ponomarev) entices her with the prospect of a new life in Sweden, neglecting to point out what her "work" in the West will entail...
As he demonstrated in both "Show Me Love" and "Together", Moodysson has an impressive ability to show the world from the perspective of children, and to elicit naturalistic performances from his youthful actors: here Akinshina displays a convincing mix of hostility and vulnerability as the girl whose life is gradually ripped apart.
Obviously the premise of a pretty adolescent female driven into prostitution could easily become a voyeuristic spectacle, yet in the rape scenes Moodysson focuses chillingly on the faces of the middle-aged male clients.
Making excellent use of a diverse soundtrack (everything from German thrash-metal to Vivaldi via Euro-techno), and such authentic locations as a derelict submarine base, the director portrays the contemporary ex-Soviet Union as the most desperate of environments. It's a society brutalized first by communism and now by capitalism, where Lilya has no value other than as a sexual commodity.
Despite her plight, Lilya does however cling to her religious beliefs, and it's through her dreams of angels that Moodysson allows the viewer a closing chink of light.
In Russian and Swedish with English subtitles.