STARRING Bill Skarsgard, Helen Sjoholm, Jan Josef Liefers DIRECTED BY Lisa Ohlin SCREENPLAY Linda Aronson, Marnie Blok, Marianne Frederiksson (Novel), Lisa Ohlin MPAA RATING NR RUNNING TIME 122 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY The Film Arcade
"Simon & The Oaks" an Almost Compelling Drama
For those familiar with my film preferences, it should come as no surprise that I immensely enjoyed and appreciated Lisa Ohlin's Simon & The Oaks. The film was nominated for 13 Swedish Film Awards last year and won the awards for Best Supporting Actor (Jan Josef Liefers) and Best Supporting Actress (Cecilia Nilsson). Simon & The Oaks is now making its way around the American arthouse scene with distributor The Film Arcade, the film is based upon an equally involving novel by Marianne Frederiksson.
The film centers around Simon (Jonatan Wachter as a child, Bill Skarsgard as a youth), a young man who learns he's adopted and has a Jewish father in Germany. Through no fault of Skarsgard, who is quite good here, Simon & The Oaks becomes rather convoluted after the war has subsided and he is able to begin fully exploring his family's history. When Simon & The Oaks is focusing on the intimacy of its relationships, it's an extraordinary film. When it's focusing on more universal issues, the film's flaws rise to the surface and we're left with threads of story that don't always gel together.
This is not to say that Simon & The Oaks is a weak film, because it simply isn't. It's simply a good film that could have been so much more. Simon lives with his mother (Helen Sjoholm) and father (Stefan Godicke) in a rural home without plumbing, electricity or anything resembling a luxury. Simon is an artistic lad, a pursuit encouraged by his mother but discouraged by his father. He finally is granted his wish to attend school, where he quickly befriends Isak (Karl Martin Eriksson), a bullied Jewish boy whose father, Ruben (Jan Josef Liefers) left a troubled life behind in Germany and ended up in Sweden with an emotionally paralyzed wife and scars both visible and invisible.
Simon & The Oaks has all the makings of a wonderfully intimate and richly human coming-of-age drama set within immense universal realities. Yet, Ohlin doesn't always manage the material with balance and as a result we end up with scenes that feel superfluous and as if they were pulled out of a different film even if they were pulled from the very same book. It's a shame, really, because this is a film that will pull on your heartstrings with urgency while also leaving the theater with your mind racing.
The film's tech credits are top notch, with D.P. Dan Laustsen lensing the film in such a way that you understand its emotional gravity even while being struck by its beauty. Annette Focks's original score drives home the film's emotional heft while also playing well during its more intimate scenes. In short, Simon & The Oaks is the kind of film that we've come to expect out of Sweden - intelligent, sensitive, thought-provoking and beautifully constructed.