Emil Larsson and Martin Jern’s Savage (2011), Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die (2012) and Anders Rundberg, Jennifer Jerez and Leo Palmestål’s I Am a Fucking Panther (2013) belong to that group of motion pictures that elaborate on the Swedish welfare state from a quite different perspective.
Sweden is well known for its well-functional welfare system and for being tremendously progressive, therefore, it’s a bit of a surprise that one can find films that show how severe issues its inhabitants, regardless of their background, have to face – on a daily basis. Films like Savage (Odjuret), Eat Sleep Die (Äta sova dö) and I Am a Fucking Panther (Jag är fan en Panter) are such films: they reflect upon problems that should be rare or unknown in a welfare state – at least in the Swedish one based on its reputation.
These three motion pictures mentioned above have a lot in common on the grounds that they address similar topics, however, one can also find some fairly obvious differences between them. Let’s start with the fact that while I Am a Fucking Panther is in fact a real documentary shot in Gothenburg, Western Götaland, the other two are fiction films but operate with documentary elements, and take us to the countryside in Skåne. Furthermore, whereas the latter two put emphasis on being an immigrant or having immigrant background, Savage is keener on exhibiting hindrances the youth has to overcome. And while in the latter two official advocacy organizations are given greatly vital roles, either a trade union or a youth organization appears on the screen, in Savage only a hermetically closed but fragmented community occupies the blurry canvas. Nevertheless, despite their dissimilarities, all three of them present the stories of young individuals who would like to be treated as humans and to live a life in which they can have dreams and – more importantly – a future.
It’s very logical to start the discussion with the film Savage, and not just because it was released first, but also because it informs the viewers in general about the challenges that young individuals in Sweden (and also throughout Europe), regardless of their personal traits, have to face.
“I want my job, I want my girlfriend, I want a house”, says Kim, one of the main characters of Savage. This sentence perfectly summarizes what the entire film is about: desperation, disappointment, hopelessness, but willpower. The plot follows four young people – Kim, Susanne, Jesper and Ylva – who live in a small village in Skåne. Kim has an aggressive father, has been to prison and his girlfriend has just left him; Susanne wants to be a striptease dancer, but couldn’t manage to get a job at the local nightclub; Jesper lives alone in a caravan and earns money as an erotic performer; Ylva grew up in an extremely religious family with an extremely religious father and is a member of a – cult-like – church, so when she starts being interested in sexuality, she is forced to oppress her awakening sexual feelings. They all are trying to break out of their desperate lifestyle and leave everything behind. Unfortunately, it seems there is no way of escape.
It has to be mentioned that Savage is based on a true story, namely a double murder case that happened in Hallandsåsen ten years ago in 2004 when two boys (17 and 18 years old) killed two 18-year-old girls. Nonetheless, the film does not replicate reality; during a festival screening in Budapest the directors said they were more interested in the possible causes of the killings than the killings themselves. The word ‘savage’ or its Swedish equivalent ‘odjur’, for instance, refers to the evil that exists somewhere in all of us. Larsson and Jern also talked about how difficult and hard it can be to live in the countryside in Sweden where there aren’t so many jobs, so most of the young people – have to – move to another place, preferably to a town, to make a living.
On the one hand, the film portrays the feeling of hopelessness very well, the plot, on the other hand, is fairly fragmented, and the characters aren’t so developed either, but this actually helps the viewers to stay far away from the horrors, be objective and to think universally to a certain extent. Nevertheless, thanks to the great choice of music the members of the audience are touched by the desperation that embraces the entire atmosphere that prevails wherever the characters go. For instance, listening to the Swedish national anthem during a happy and hopeful but short moment has symbolic meaning; it demonstrates Kim’s and Jesper’s hope for having a job and a comfortable life far away from their homeland as they are playing it during their farewell party, however, they’re singing really loudly that they want to live and die in the North. So lyrics, dialogues and monologues are such things that one certainly has to pay attention when watching Larsson and Jern’s piece.
Of course, both the episodes and the turning points of the film might contribute to a somewhat extreme version of reality. Yet it’s quite reasonable considering the situation that is seen all over Europe: the unemployment rate among the youth changes country by country, but, according to the statistics, it reaches 23,5% in Sweden.
Eat Sleep Die
Gabriella Pichler’s first feature film, Eat Sleep Die, follows the path of Savage, but its universe is expanded with the factor of being Swedish but still treated as an immigrant. Pichler’s piece tells the struggling story of a plucky young girl, Raša, who is originally from Montenegro, but grew up in Sweden, and who becomes unemployed, all of sudden. However, she never gives up and is trying to find a solution, but in the end, she has to leave the village for the town of Malmö.
Similarly to Savage, dialogues and monologues are highly important because these let the audience know about the obstacles that individuals with immigrant background have to overcome (e.g. discrimination because of having foreign-sounded surnames; immigrant parents lacking of the knowledge of the Swedish language, therefore, their kids have to support them; proving Swedishness, etc.). During a scene, for instance, when Raša is visiting an employer (who might have forgotten to invite her for a job interview), she reflects upon some of the stereotypes that exist in society: “Maybe you thought the name sounded Arabic. […] But it isn’t Arabic. I’m a foreigner from the start but I’m basically a Swede in my manner and such.”
So even though the storyline is fictive, it is steeped in reality. The director has added some elements that one might not think of, actually. It is quite usual that the foreign-born population is accused of stealing jobs from the ‘real’ citizens of a country, however, in this case immigrants are blaming and against those immigrants, who arrived later in Sweden. The situation becomes intense when the vegetable packing factory where Raša works starts downsizing, and mostly those get fired who have been worked there longer. The trade union is trying to reach some agreements but the negotiations end without any. Still, it is a crucial moment because we see how much immigrants or people with immigrant background have adapted / integrated (in)to the system: they are aware of their rights and are not afraid of putting themselves out there either.
Besides mirroring reality, what makes the film so authentic is the amateur actors / actresses and the rural milieu; Nermina Lukac has never acted before, but she was without doubt born to play Raša, the restless girl, who looks dour from the outside, but when we see how much she loves and looks after her unemployed father, it becomes visible how warm-hearted she is. Her mimics and natural acting definitely dominate the canvas, but the landscape also plays a significant role. Pichler has learnt from the Italian neorealists, that’s for sure.
Unlike in Savage, in Eat Sleep Die, the members of the community (at least of Raša’s circle) are highly connected. They are there for each other, and even though they don’t speak perfect Swedish, this language makes possible for them to express their thoughts as well as how much they care about each other. “Eat, sleep, die? This isn’t life. […] Eat, sleep, die? Is this life?”, takes a moment one of Raša’s former co-workers, who also got fired, to question the meaning of life.
I Am a Fucking Panther
I Am a Fucking Panther is the second documentary on The Panthers, which is a youth organization from Gothenburg. Its
members fight for their rights, and “want to be independent and have jobs instead of social benefits” , as they state on their website. Some of the issues that were mentioned with regard to Eat Sleep Die also come up in Anders Rundberg, Jennifer Jerez and Leo Palmestål’s film, which is an observational documentary that “attempt[s] to simply and spontaneously observe lived life with a minimum of intervention. […] The films aimed for immediacy, intimacy, and revelation of individual human character in ordinary life situations.”
It also has to be pointed out that Gothenburg is one of Europe’s most segregated cities so the emerge of this youth movement is hardly the result of a coincidence. To gain some insights into why and how the film was made, let’s read the interview with Leo Palmestål, one of the directors!
How did you become interested in making a film on the Panthers (Pantrarna)?
Leo: We heard about them when they stormed a political meeting to get a youth centre in Biskopsgården, Gothenburg, so we called them, and asked if we could come and film the next time when they would go to a political meeting – they said we were welcome. When we had been at the meeting we were hooked. I was totally impressed with how they put politicians against the wall and demanded their rights. It felt like being present at a historic moment.
Why do you think it’s important to make a film like this? Can a film bring about social changes?
Leo: I think it is important to document a movement like The Panthers because otherwise it is easily forgotten. It may be also important to the organization to be able to look back and see what they have accomplished. The Panthers have also used the first movie (Do Not Treat Us Like Animals) to spread their message, which has led to people joining The Panthers or organized themselves in other ways. So yeah, I think films may be one of the tools for creating change.
Do you consider yourselves activists as well?
Leo: I do not know. It’s a weird word. We are all active in some sense, or? But I want to use my time and my know-how to try to influence society together with others.
What were the greatest challenges during filming?
Leo: To do something that The Panthers would be happy with.
How did the audience react to the film? Who are your target audience in fact?
Leo: The first film was directed to people who were familiar with the subject; it managed to reach out to them, nearly 40,000 people have watched it on YouTube, it has been shown at youth centres, teachers have written and told about how their class sat dead silent and looked at it. The reactions we got from the first film were positive. The second film was aimed at a wider audience, and it was screened at the Gothenburg International Film Festival, where it sold out all the shows and got standing ovations.
Have positive changes occurred in Swedish society thanks to the film?
Leo: I do not know. Not yet.
The film was screened at Gothenburg International Film Festival and Gothenburg Indie Film Fest. Where can we see it in the future?
Leo: I Am a Fucking Panther will have a theatrical release on 13 September in Hagabion, Gothenburg. A shorter version will be shown on Swedish national television on 11 September.