Sometimes you just want to get away and leave it all behind and other times you have no other choice; but to leave.
As promised, I could finally see the film “Lillian” at this years 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival and can now give a full report on the feature length and documentary film by Andreas Horvath, that was chosen by Cannes film festival and premiered in the selection “Director’s Fortnight”.
“Lillian” is based on the true story, of a young Russian immigrant who’s visa and other documentation expiries, while in the United States. In her last attempt to find a job, she turns to the hard-core porn industry but even they will not hire her, without proper documentation, due to the strict regulations in the US.
The man in charge of hiring the girls, is likewise Russian and urges her to go back to her country; teasing: "Russia is the land of opportunity”. As the sounds of moaning women in porn videos subside, we enter the filmic adventure of Lillian Alling’s desperate escape back home.
Her journey begins, with her walking beside large highways filled with fast moving cars and large trucks. The director captures the fast-moving new world and contrasts it beautifully with Lillian, who’s future is uncertain and who is trying to find new opportunities on foot. By chance, she finds a map of America and decides to walk from New York all the way back to Russia.
To survive, she scavenges for food in dumpsters and collects clothing by breaking into abandoned houses or stealing from thrift shops. The journey begins in Spring where the climate is still mild and nature kind, but as Lillian continues her long path through America, she comes across the good, the bad and the ugly.
Confronted by extreme heat and cold her voyage is not completely out of harm’s way. On her travels, she has a brief, yet dangerous encounter with a man longing to capture her and presumably rape her. She makes an escape.
In the film “Lillian”, our protagonist doesn’t often speak but with every step, and with every overwhelming scene of hunger and thirst, she speaks to us. Hope and sometimes desperation glistens in her eyes. Furthermore, Lillian’s constant battle against the temperamental forces of nature, contributes to the argument that nature is one of the main antagonist of the story.
The film is at its core, a fabulous essay about the momentary decline in the American dream. On Lillian’s travels, we see towns, littered with trash and people with no real prospects themselves.Which brings me to one of the most touching scenes of the movie. This is the celebrating of the 4th of July. Americas Independence Day.
Lillian happens to stumble across a parade, where candy is tossed to the floor for some of the children, some obese, to collect. The people salute the American soldiers passing by and great banners with different slogans such as: “God bless America” etc. create a sea of contradiction among the vast number of unprivileged towns people.
“Lillian” is in my opinion, like reading a novel. The long sequences and intimate moments with our main character makes us develop a relationship with her, despite no dialog. Our interest is constantly triggered, by the odd and sometimes very dangerous situations she encounters.
As mentioned, the film is based on true events. The character Lillian Alling, did exist and tried to walk all the way back to Russia, in the 1920’s. Very few articles and other materials can be found about her person but eye witnesses of the time, claim to have seen a woman appear out of the forest in Alaska. No one ever saw her again and chances are she made it to Russia or maybe she didn’t.
In recent years, there has been a rise in pilgrims around the world. Mainly, young people in their early 30’s are seeking clarity and direction, in this fast-passed world of today. It has become increasingly harder to find jobs and therefore the future is for some, very bleak.
The film “Lillian” attracts my attention for the these very same reasons. I feel that on foot, we have an opportunity to discover ourselves and are unrestricted by social norms. In a society, obsessed with documentation and nationality, one its confronted with the questions: where is our true home or the place where we belong? Is it something we go to or find on the way? Did it ever exist?
The journey is an endless self-questioning of the world we live in. While on a pilgrimage, you are never attached to one place and experience the world in a different pace, compared to normal life in for example a city. Time is no longer a minute or an hour but rather more poetic like a skyline or a season. There are many ideas and inspirations in this film. As I said, it breathes like a written novel and inspires the mind to think and ponder.
The film was directed and shot by Andreas Horvath, who is originally from Salzburg, Austria. “Lillian” is his depute feature film. He originally started as a documentary filmmaker. Lillian was played by the polish actress Patrycja Planik and the film was produced over several years by Ulrich Seidl and Georg Aschauer.