EAT, SLEEP, DIE is set in contemporary Sweden and looks at a young immigrant who suddenly loses her job and explores themes of working class values, unemployment, immigration and paternal love. Socially realistic, Gabriela Pichler’s critically acclaimed and insightful debut feature premiered at Venice Critics’ Week in 2012 winning the audience award before going on to win the AFI Film Festival’s New Auteurs Grand Jury Award. Since sweeping the Swedish Oscars (Guldbaggen), EAT, SLEEP, DIE was nominated for 2013 Nordic Film Prize which will be announced on October 30. Gabriela Pichler has also been nominated for Europe’s prestigious European Film Awards Discovery Fipresci prize that will be announced on December 7.
Gabriela Pichler’s EAT, SLEEP, DIE is the official entry from Sweden for foreign language at the 86th Academy Awards.
Cinema Without Borders: How did you come up with the idea of making EAT, SLEEP, DIE?
Gabriela Pichler: I wanted to create a female main character that would be strong and cocky, a bit like “Rocky Balboa”. But instead of being a boxer in the ring, she fights against situations in her everyday life and always loses. I wanted to bring that fighting spirit, charisma and working class perspective of the character Rocky into the film. You seldom see that in female characters. My main character challenges many the stereotypes you often see when it comes to women, Muslims, daughter/father-relationships and immigrants in Sweden.
In Sweden at the time around 2009, when I was beginning researching the story, the financial crises was peaking and many factories had to let people go. Many lost their jobs. I wanted to capture that time we live in and what it does with the individual human being.
CWB: Can you tell us about the research stage in this project?
GP: The most important thing for me was to have a authentic and honest feeling in the film. So a lot of time and energy was spent on the research, and we had tons of material with interviews. The story in itself is fictional and not autobiographical, but many of the situations in the film, the people and the environments are highly inspired by my own life. For example the scenes with Raša going with her father to the doctor. That is something that I often experienced with my mother. She is originally from Bosnia, worked extremely hard her whole life as a cleaning lady until her body no longer could keep up, and she struggles with a lot of pain. The doctors often treated her as a second class person, as she is both an immigrant and a working class woman. Those encounters were often humiliating and frustrating, and there were a lot of things that I wished that I would have said or done instead of feeling small and powerless. For me situations like that still build up a rage in me, and I really wanted to portray that kind of situations in the film.
CWB: How challenging was making this film?
GP: The biggest challenge was the physical and psychological stress and heavy burden, and to push the boundaries of how much you can work until you drop. But luckily you forget all about that until the next film.
CWB: Please tell us about your casting process for EAT, SLEEP, DIE.
GP: The process was a bit different from traditional film making process. I started to cast before I even had a script. The most important thing for me was to have an authentic and honest feeling in the film, and to get that the greatest challenge is to find the right people in front of the camera. So the research process was deeply intertwined with the casting, location searching, writing and so on. I wanted to work with amateur actors, and sometimes a potential actor turned up when I was visiting a location for instance. I even chose my own mother and her ex working colleague in two of the main roles. But most importantly I had the very best casting director who totally accepted these unconventional methods and did a great job.
CWB: Did you do a lot of rehearsals or did you just work with actors and crew on the set?
GP: We almost never rehearsed the scenes, but we rehearsed scenes that reminded of the feelings that I wanted to get in the specific scenes. And also, because none of the main actors had ever been acting before, the preparation was more about building up courage and confidence, getting to know each other better and to be able to get in contact with different feelings to act out.
CWB: Did you allow any improvisations proposed by your cast or crew?
GP: That is depending on whom you work with for the moment, so I like to be very flexible and always adjust my directing to that certain person. Sometimes improvisation is the solution, sometimes it is scripted dialogue. So I used both. The main actress for instance had almost always scripted lines to work with. While another actor could more freely use his own words for a better result than whit scripted dialogue.
CWB: How did you come up with the visual style of your film?
GP: The DOP Johan Lundborg (who also co-edited the film with me) has directed and shot several of his own documentaries in Sweden. He understands people and is very open-minded in working in untraditional ways. We often had a rolling camera, long takes. And having amateur actors in front of the camera makes you not always know how a scene is going to develop. That demands a very flexible and intuitive DOP with quick decision making in the moment.
CWB: How much of film found its final form in the editing process?
GP: Because of my way of shooting (with long and very diverse takes) I had a lot of material to choose from. For that editing process you need a lot of time, patience and determination. You can edit the film i many totally different directions. But that is my method and it is a strategy to get out the best kind of acting from my actors.
CWB: Please tell us about the critics and audience responses to EAT, SLEEP, DIE.
GP: They have been overwhelmingly good. We started of with winning the audience award at the Venice Film Festival was we had our world premiere. It turned out that the film and the story that I thought of as a quite local kind of story, turned out to be a very universal one instead.
CWB: Any future project that you can tell us about?
GP: Yes I have, but too early to talk about.