Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Helen Sjoholm, Jan Josef Liefers, Stefan Godicke, Karl Linnertorp
Directed by Lisa Ohlin (Waiting for the Tenor, Seeking Temporary Wife)
Simon & the Oaks is an award-winning Swedish film set during and after the Holocaust. Smartly, it is not a film about the Holocaust, rather, it is a very focused, personal story involving two seemingly different families as they navigate treacherous times. It is also a film about acceptance and finding one’s identity.
When we first meet the character from the film’s title (played by Jonatan S. Wachter as a young boy and later, a young adult by Bill Skarsgard), he is a young boy who dreams big. Simon is drawn to a particular oak tree, where he imagines adventures in the clouds and reads book after book. His parents are not at all happy that Simon is not doing “normal” boy things like playing, fighting, or woodwork…a trade that his father excels in. Simon’s dad tries to teach him to fight, telling him to punch those that would insult him.
This one lesson pays off for Simon, as he protects another young boy, Isak, at school. Isak is of Jewish descent and is often the target of ridicule and abuse at his school. Simon’s act of bravery draws the two children closer together and a friendship is forged.
Wouldn’t you know, Isak’s father owns a bookstore, which only goes to spark Simon’s interests in the Arts. As the horrific climate of the war progresses, the two families assimilate into one, revealing interesting dynamics between Simon, Isak and both sets of parents.
Simon & the Oaks is sweeping and epic, covering several years as we watch Simon grow from a child into a man. It is not all that ground-breaking as far as the material, but it is well-made and well-acted. We eventually learn just why Simon doesn’t seem to fit with his family.
Much of what the film does right comes from how each character grows and learns. With such tragedy set as the backdrop, it puts into perspective the universal importance of individual growth and acceptance, both spiritually and intellectually. Knowing exactly where you are rooted doesn’t mean you can’t branch out into other exciting directions.
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