By Don Simpson | October 26, 2012
Director: Lisa Ohlin
Writers: Lisa Ohlin (additional screenwriting), Linda Aronson (script consultant), Marnie Blok (screenplay), Marianne Fredriksson (novel)
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Helen Sjöholm, Jan Josef Liefers, Stefan Gödicke, Karl Linnertorp, Jonatan S. Wächter, Karl Martin Eriksson, Erica Löfgren, Katharina Schüttler, Josefin Neldén, Lena Nylén, Cecilia Nilsson
Young Simon (Jonatan S. Wachter) spends most of his time reading books while perched in an gigantic oak tree. His father, Erik (Stefan Godicke), wants Simon to put down his books and learn how to fight; he also wants Simon to learn carpentry. The problem is that Simon likes books and really wants to attend a prestigious private school to learn history. Eventually, Erik makes a deal with Simon — as long as he abandons the strange relationship he has with the oak tree, he will find a way to pay for Simon to attend the fancy school.
On his first day at school, Simon instantly befriends Isak (Karl Martin Eriksson), a Jewish boy whom Simon protects from anti-Semitic bullies. (See, knowing how to fight does come in handy!) The two boys are inseparable, each of them sensing a strange kinship with each other’s family. Simon is intrigued by Isak’s father, Ruben (Jan Josef Liefers), a wealthy bookseller who introduces him to the finer things in life, specifically music. Isak, on the other hand, associates with Erik’s working class lifestyle and shows an intense interest in shipbuilding. It is sort of a “grass is always greener on the other side” scenario, as the proletariat boy is attracted to the bourgeois life and vice versa.
So far, all of this has occurred during the early days of World War II, as Lisa Ohlin’s Simon and the Oaks focuses on the uncertain future of Jews in Sweden during the war. At about the halfway mark, we suddenly leap forward to the end of the war. And while the conclusion of the war should be a celebratory occasion, the news finds Simon (Bill Skarsgård) — now in is his late teens — at constant conflict with Erik and his mother, Karin (Helen Sjoholm).
Nominated for 13 Swedish Academy Awards last year, Simon and the Oaks stresses the important roles that history — both familiar and world — and art plays in our maturity as human beings. How can we ever understand our present if we do not fully understand our past? Additionally, art (in this context, specifically music and literature) allows us to take emotional breaks from the horrible atrocities occurring in the real world.
Simon and the Oaks not only educates us on the importance of history, but it serves as a history lesson in itself. Surrounded by German occupied countries, Scandinavia found itself in an awkward position of trying to appease the Nazis while not necessarily joining their cause. First and foremost, countries like Sweden felt the need to compile lists of Jews (even 1/4 Jews) just in case they needed to use that as leverage with the Nazis.