56th BFI London Film Festival Review – Eat Sleep Die (2012)

Eat Sleep Die (Swedish: Äta sova dö), 2012

Directed by Gabriela Pichler
Starring Nermina Lukač, Milan Dragisic, Jonathan Lampinen and Peter Fält.

 

SYNOPSIS:

The story of a young Muslim girl who gets laid off from her factory job in Sweden.

Raša (Nermina Lukač) has an under bite that would make an Easter Egg island statue jealous. Her jaw protrudes from the bottom half of her face, pursing her lower lip against its top. It gives the impression that she’s always frowning. Maybe she is. If you’re wearing a brace in your early twenties, something, somewhere, presumably went wrong.

For Raša, it has. Her father, Pappan (Milan Dragisic), is a Muslim immigrant incapable of work. He whines and moans and his legs are discoloured. He visits the doctor often to maintain his incapacity benefit, and then laments the foreigners who’re eroding the foundations of their adopted country, Sweden. In one instance, he calls a black man a “fucking foreigner,” presumably on the colour of his skin. In the very next scene, Pappan eats a Chinese takeaway. The irony is lost on his ignorance.

Nothing is made of these subtleties. Instead, they’re treated as realistic character traits. The film is so naturalistic – with its handheld camera, location shooting and lack of recognisable faces – that everything works like a poetic documentary. There are definitely subtexts of immigration, xenophobia and recession if you’re in the market for them. But on first viewing, the characters – even Pappan – are harmlessly absorbing.

The cold looking town in which Raša and Pappan live doesn’t stand up to much. There are a few shops in the square, a factory and a saloon-like joint, but these places don’t feel connected. They’re never shot in perspective. Instead, the bar will be shown by the road next to a snowy field; nothing nearby as a frame of reference. The factory is somewhere else entirely, which Raša cycles furiously from and to each day (she can’t drive – a significant snag in trying to find a job). Her and Pappan’s home is equally unconnected. The town isn’t so much a place as a series of locations that Raša frequents. The journeys between each are brief, though they seem far apart. Like in a dream. And it’s trapped her there.

It’s no life, one of the town’s women folk comments. You eat, you sleep and you die. That’s what Raša does. That’s what all the townsfolk do, all of whom you grow to love – not because they’re endearing or funny, but because of their overwhelming legitimacy. They’re genuine. One of the film’s most tragic moments comes when Raša and an assortment of the town’s unemployed are asked about their hobbies at a job centre. An old man offers ‘cleaning’. Raša herself suggests ‘packing salads’ (her main responsibility at the factory from which she was laid off). Not only are they without hobbies, they have no comprehension of the term.

The recession lingers heavily in such scenes. Finding a job becomes an obsession for Raša, and its absence slowly pushes her into depression. It’s a stubborn, subtle form, though. She’s an incredibly strong character, coping with her sick father and content with her place in life. But still, it chips away at her underbitten jaw.

Although Eat Sleep Die is about a lot of things, by the end, ‘family vs life’ is most prevalent. Raša can plod away in her depression, stuck in this ether of a town, never getting anywhere; or she can make for the city, where an internship awaits. It means leaving her father, and all the flawed, slightly racist, slightly idiotic townsfolk with whom she (and us) have fallen in love.

It sounds cliche, and maybe it is a little. But you wouldn’t know that from watching. Because Eat Sleep Die feels like one of the freshest films in years.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ 

Oliver Davis

Around the Internet…

  • Geoffrey

    What an excellent summary. I saw the film yesterday and would have struggled to articulate my response as well as this review does. On a slight tangent, the places being unconnected and more a series of locations might not have been a deliberate move on the director’s part. I’d never realised this before but that sums up my sense of dislocation in many of the Swedish towns I’ve been in. That’s what they really are.

  • Geoffrey

    What an excellent summary. I saw the film yesterday and would have struggled to articulate my response as well as this review does. On a slight tangent, the places being unconnected and more a series of locations might not have been a deliberate move on the director's part. I'd never realised this before but that sums up my sense of dislocation in many of the Swedish towns I've been

  • faravid

    Excellent review. Allow me to point out that “pappan” means “the father” in Swedish, and is not a name :)

  • faravid

    Excellent review. Allow me to point out that "pappan" means "the father" in Swedish, and is not a name :)