Simon & the Oaks
(Simon och ekarna)
Film Review by Kam Williams
Jewish Boys Come-of-Age in Sweden in Surrealistic WWII Saga
Set in Sweden in 1939, Simon & the Oaks is a surrealistic, coming-of-age saga which unfolds against the backdrop of World War II. The title character, Simon (played by Jonatan S. Wachter, younger, then by Bill Skarsgard) is a youngster who, at the point of departure, has no idea he’s half-Jewish.
He was adopted at an early age by a working-class, Swedish couple (Helen Sjoholm and Stefan Godicke) who have not only hidden his roots, but done their best to shield him from the horrors unfolding across Europe. However, despite their love and support, Karin and Erik can’t help but notice their son’s growing discontent with his lowly lot in life.
Simon gradually evidences an insatiable curiosity that, as farmers, they simply aren’t sophisticated enough to address satisfactorily. In fact, he becomes so lonely that he starts talking to an oak tree in the yard and fantasizing about the rest of his natural surroundings.
Finally, his frustrated folks finally decide to enroll him in an upscale grammar school where he is likely to receive the intellectual stimulation he craves. There, he soon meets Isak (played by Karl Martin Eriksson, younger, then by Karl Linnertorp ), a Jewish classmate bullied about his ethnicity whose relatively well-to-do family has recently escaped Nazi Germany.
The boys become fast friends, and their families also make acquaintances, despite the difference in social status. The plot thickens when Simon learns the truth about his ethnic background and proceeds to make the most of the opportunity to pursue an academic path. Isak, meanwhile, disappoints his dad (Jan Josef Leifers) by showing more of a desire to work with his hands than his head.
Directed by Lisa Ohlin (Seeking Temporary Wife) Simon & the Oaks is an ethereal, introspective escapade inspired by the Marianne Fredriksson novel of the same name. Besides the visual capture of some breathtaking cinematography, what makes the film engaging is the stark contrast in the personas of the blossoming, young protagonists.
A sensitive character study chronicling the considerable challenge of coming-of-age Jewish with the specter of the Third Reich lurking just over the horizon.
Very Good (3 stars)
In Swedish, German, Hebrew and English with subtitles
Running time: 122 minutes
Distributor: The Film Arcade
To see a trailer for Simon & the Oaks, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80_L_LsOexE