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It’s fascinating to see how many European films these days highlight the same social problems roiling the United States during an election season. Swedish director Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die, which had its American premiere at AFI Fest, has an undeniable urgency that is reflected in the film’s restless handheld camera style. While this naturalistic, sometimes downbeat film is unlikely to ignite the box office, it commands a viewer’s attention.
Rasa (talented newcomer Nermina Lukac) is a young woman from the Balkans who works in a factory in rural Sweden. While the job is utterly routine, Rasa has developed camaraderie with her fellow workers, and she’s not unhappy. But when the owner of the factory announces that layoffs are necessary in a shrinking economy, Rasa’s livelihood is endangered. These economic pressures are a growing threat all over the world, and we also can’t help noticing that many of the factory workers are immigrants like Rasa, which makes their status even shakier. Rasa mentions casually at one point that she is Muslim, but religious prejudice does not seem to be operating in this community. Economic survival is Rasa’s chief worry.
Rasa happens to be the chief source of support for her father, who has a number of health problems that keep him from working. The relationship of father and daughter is one of the freshest elements in the film. Their playful sparring evokes a friendship between equals rather than a typical father-daughter relationship; she takes charge at home, but she’s bereft when her father decides to move to Norway.
There are no melodramatic crises in this low-key film, though the scenes in which Rasa and some of her fellow workers lose their jobs have considerable power. Rasa eventually lands a new job selling fire extinguishers, but this comes to a halt when her boss learns that she lied about having a driver’s license. These setbacks provide quite enough drama to sustain the film, partly because the director and lead actress are so skillful in getting to the heart of the character.
Lukac is marvelously expressive, particularly in the scenes in which Rasa observes fellow workers being escorted out of the factory. All of her fears for her own future are written on her face as she bolts and runs down a nearby highway. Milan Dragisic as her helpless but caring father also contributes a vivid performance. The director may rely too heavily on her handheld camera, but this technique gives the film unmistakable energy that keeps us involved throughout Rasa’s turbulent journey.
Venue: AFI Fest
Production: Anagram Film
Cast: Nermina Lukac, Milan Dragisic, Jonathan Lampinen, Peter Falt, Ruzica Pichler
Director-screenwriter-editor: Gabriela Pichler
Producer: China Ahlander
Executive producer: Martin Persson
Director of photography: Johan Lundborg
Production designers: Jessika Jankert, Jessica Tarland, Tobias Akesson
Costume designer: Sandra Woltersdorf
No rating, 105 minutes
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