The Eastern European Dream

A Review of the Film ‘Strawberry Days’ Directed by Wiktor Ericcson

Strawberry Days directed by Wiktor Ericcson can hardly offer anything else than a widely known story of migration, but at least it is trying to show the struggles of both the immigrants and the locals. It is the tale of a group of so-called second-class citizens who have left their homeland to finally be able to change their life for good, and Sweden is their dream destination, the place to make their Eastern European dreams come true.

Wojtek and his family arrive in Skåne located in the south of Sweden to work at a strawberry field to save enough money to be able to have a decent life in Poland. Sadly, the dreadful truth is that one can earn twice or three times more money by cleaning toilets, picking strawberries, working at a factory in a welfare state like Sweden, Germany or Austria than in one of the countries of the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region. Wojtek’s parents are aware of that, and they rather live in a caravan for a while to create a better future of their son. Wojtek, who needs some time to adapt to the new circumstances, finds direction in his life when he begins a relationship with his Swedish boss, a girl of his age, named Annelie.

Photo: ©Mikolaj Tadeus Urbanski

Through their love story, a window opens to a world in which the characters are more or less one dimensional, and love is always a remedy. It’s unquestionable that in rural areas and small towns a special atmosphere surrounds the inhabitants, and native residents have to face just as many struggles as foreigners coming from a country with even fewer opportunities. Young people drink and party and spoilt enough not to work in the fields anymore, the adults feel either comfortable or uncomfortable when being around migrant workers, migrants either work as hard as they can or mess around and try to find shortcuts to success. What is more, migrant workers even turn on each other to fulfil wishes of their bosses who don’t want trouble while throwing a party.

Strawberry Days balances between two sides: it presents the immigrants’ stereotypes on Swedes, and the Swedes’ views on immigrants. While there is a certain amount of truth in this picture of a rather isolated place, somehow it’s still troublesome that scenes built on clichés have made it to the screen only. The dialogues do aim at providing sufficient details of the characters’ background, but most of the time those are rather predictable – similarly to the plot. Are people that predictable whenever immigrants and locals are forced – due to social, societal, political or economic reasons – to cohabit a place together? One might wonder why the reasons are not emphasized as much as the consequences? Not only in Strawberry Days, but in other films, too.

Photo: ©Nadim Carlsen

Since the former Eastern Bloc’s countries such as Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. joined the European Union (EU), the citizens of these countries can move freely within the EU. If one can believe the statistics, millions of Poles and thousands of Hungarians have already left their homeland and settled down in one of the Western European countries – owing to the economic situation of their own country or the political views prevailing on the governmental level. Sweden definitely ranks high on the list of top destinations, and it doesn’t matter how educated and skilled individuals are mentioned in the context. Nonetheless, the term EU migrant pops up in more discussions, and immigrants working in agriculture or factories are probably exposed to more hatred than those working at universities or some multinational companies, since “they are stealing the locals’ jobs”.

In reality, they are only those second-class citizens whom nobody seems to care about – as shown in the film, too. At the end of the day, if some problem occurs, they can’t do anything else but take another job, mostly a worse one than before. They are from the EU, and therefore they have rights and more opportunities than individuals coming from outside the EU, but that doesn’t mean their life is actually simpler and easier. They carry emotional and cultural baggage wherever they go, and most of them do really miss their homeland where families and friends are left behind. The CEE region might be comprised of many countries, but values tend to be shared. For example, attending university is still believed to be an – if not the only – escape from a crappy life. But is it? According to Wojtek’s mum, who chose a less wealthy man to be her husband, who is stubborn enough not to let her family to support them financially, it is. In most CEE countries traditionally the man is the breadwinner and the head of the family, and women’s role in society is still limited. Moreover, they also need to fight more in order to be respected and appreciated.

Apparently, this traditional view is prevailing in Annelie’s family, too, and it seems that despite a few effortless actions, everyone is perfectly fine with their life. They might have accepted the fact the things cannot change – at least not for them, but for their kids. Because Wojtek and Annelie’s love can survive and be understood as the ultimate love, it must overcome hatred and erase all differences in society. It even has the potential to unite people. But is it that simple?

Strawberry Days do feel like a parabola or an idealistic story in which individuals are destined to live a certain life and changes hardly ever happen. While Martin Jern and Emil Larsson’s Savage (Odjuret, on youth unemployment in rural areas), Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die (Äta sova dö, on immigrants group against each other) or Ronni Sandahl’s Underdog (Svenskjävel, on young Swedes’ life while working in Norway) mainly focused on one particular issue, hence managed to unfold – at least – a few reasons and presented contemporary events that have impact on the Swedish society, Wiktor Ericcsson’s Strawberry Days aims at showing it all. But it chiefly sums up issues in one line said by one of the characters. Jimmy, who is in love with Annelie, talks about people moving to Norway, Annelie about her friends who only want to get drunk and nothing else. “You can’t trust those people”, says Annelie’s father to his daughter when talking about the Poles working on the strawberry fields. Whereas these short reflections on today’s Swedish society say a lot to natives or those who are familiar with the situation in Sweden, those who only have the image of a perfect welfare state in their mind probably won’t be able to understand the subtlety of the dialogues.

Strawberry Days is undoubtedly a film that can find an audience at film festivals due to its main theme and its style that resembles documentaries. The hope that young people have the capacity to think outside the box and forget the prejudices and unite is beyond doubt a legit one. However, first, the reasons should be discussed in more detail including all members of society. This film is a great starting point since viewers can identify any of the characters if they want to, but the music certainly takes them out of the plot from time to time.

The film is disributed by The Yellow Affair.

CategoriesReviews Sweden
Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.