Rating: ★★★☆☆

Gabriela Pichler’s debut feature has a discordant dance track book-ending its narrative which, while a refreshing slap in the face, feels oddly placed in what is a gritty, serious slice of Scandinavian social realism. Raša Abdulahovic (Nermina Lukac) is a 21-year-old Balkan immigrant and long-serving employee of the local salad-packing plant. It’s hardly the most stimulating work environment, but amounts to an honest day’s living, while at home, she enjoys playing the extrovert tomboy, eating like a slovenly caveman, and loudly chatting with her ill father. When Raša discovers that she is to be laid off, her world is turned upside down.

Eat Sleep Die is a very sad, sombre film indeed; Raša needs a job, and this grounded treatment feels diametrically opposed to the view of a working life that Jason Reitman’s nevertheless excellent Up in the Air had, where the subjects seemed pathetic for being so emotionally involved in their jobs. Here, it is a necessity to put food on the table rather than to buy a new Lexus. Lukac’s performance potently conveys the heartbreak of having her already humble life begin to collapse in on itself as she frantically searches for a replacement job, doing unpaid odd jobs, and putting herself out there as much as possible. On a simple yet efficient level, it is a relatable theme whether you work as a bin-man or a banker. The desperation to stay on an even keel is heartbreaking, and of course, imminently sympathetic, as even her go-getter attitude reaps few rewards. Eventually, she has to resort to the most base means of scraping a living short of prostituting herself.

At a more intricate level, Pinchler’s film broaches the administrative agony that tends to hold people back; Raša is at an immediate disadvantage because she lacks a driver’s license. The narrative then leaps off to explore the place of a Balkan immigrant family in Sweden, enhanced once she is left to her own devices after her father departs on an urgent trip, where she comes to believe – probably rightly – that her ethnic surname causes her to be discriminated against on job applications. Furthermore, Pinchler probes the stigma of a perceived “benefits culture”, which is no less controversial in the UK than it is in Sweden.

Its ultimate message – reinforced by a closing scene set at a theme park shooting gallery – that life is unfair and we have to make the most of it, might prove prickly for too many viewers given its poverty of catharsis, which nevertheless making the film’s title ring stingingly true. It’s far too long and sags throughout, but this is a simple story well told, and the timing couldn’t be better.

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This article was first posted on October 14, 2012