According to a recent U.N. summit, more than 250 million kids are trapped in prostitution rings all over the world. Poverty, discrimination, and violence fuel the global sex trade. Pornography on the Internet keeps expanding this illicit market and the continuing abuse of children. In many places, the multi-billion dollar industry finds youth to exploit when their parents sell them into prostitution rings in large cities. The girls and boys who try to escape are often killed. Lilya 4-Ever is a compelling and disturbing Swedish film by writer and director Lukas Moodysson about this terrible phenomenon. His last film, Together, explored life in a commune during the 1970s.

Sixteen-year-old Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) lives with her mother (Ljubov Agapova) in an unnamed Russian city, an urban wasteland of ruined and abandoned buildings. She has never seen her father, who ran out on them. Lilya is ecstatic when she learns that they will be moving to the United States, thanks to the new man in her mother's life. However, she is plunged into despair when her mother tells her that due to a change of plans, they will send for her later.

It takes a while for Lilya to realize that she has essentially been abandoned by her selfish mother. Her aunt Anna (Lillia Shinkareva) forces her to leave the apartment that has been her home and move into a wretched one where an old man has just died. Trying to escape her worries, Lilya goes to a club with Natasha (Elina Benenson). Her friend has sex with a man who pays her. When Natasha's father finds out about the money, she says she got it from Lilya. Branded a libertine and ostracized in the community of poor elderly women and young thugs, Lilya befriends fourteen-year-old Volodya (Artiom Bogucharski), a lonely boy repeatedly beaten and thrown out of his home by an abusive father. Volodya plays basketball at night with a small object. He takes Lilya to an abandoned submarine base where they sniff glue and talk about death.

Called in by social welfare, Lilya learns that her mother has disowned her. In a pit of depression, she goes to the club and prostitutes herself. Later, she meets Andrei (Pavel Ponomaryev), who takes a fancy to her. They become friends and he offers to take her with him to Sweden where he has a job. Yearning for a better life and an escape from the prison of poverty and meaninglessness, Lilya accepts his proposition. What she discovers in Sweden is another dimension of hell.

In his extraordinary film Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders focuses on two angels in Berlin who watch over the affairs of men and women. Their job is to observe, collect, preserve, and testify. No one can see them — except children — as they move through the apartments, streets, and subways of the city. The idea of angels is very comforting, especially to those who have no one to watch over them.

In Lilya 4-Ever, the two teenagers talk about angels. Volodya believes in them; Lilya reveals that her most prized possession is a painting of an angel and a child. They both yearn for a God who cherishes human beings and will never abandon or abuse anyone. The dreamlike sequences in this story involving angels speak to the heart rather than to the head. They help us sense the startling abyss of emptiness and loss that envelops these two innocents, whose hope wears thin in the face of one deprivation and defeat after another.

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