April 25, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it an A

The new film by Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson is a haunting and incandescent work of art. Part of its power is the way that Lilya (Oksana Akinshina), a 16-year-old Russian girl who lives in a sprawling, rotten-walled housing complex somewhere in the former Soviet Union, is quietly and harrowingly alive to us as a human being well before she begins her descent into the sex industry. Moodysson works with a handheld camera and natural light and sound. In spirit, he’s close to a modern-day Jean Renoir, infusing scenes with a compassion so fierce it seems to light his characters from within.

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