Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie with Abe: Simon and the Oaks

Simon and the Oaks
Directed by Lisa Ohlin
Released October 12, 2012

Most movies set during the Holocaust in Europe are touched by horror and sadness. That’s not quite the case in this story of two young boys in Sweden whose lives are intertwined after they become friends in school. Since the Nazis never took Sweden, it’s a different kind of Holocaust movie, one in which its effects can be felt but not directly recognized. Highlighted by the music which its title character loves so much, “Simon and the Oaks” is an affecting depiction of two children being raised by two distinctly different families in an uncertain environment removed from war and the Holocaust.

Though its story is about children – Simon and his Jewish friend Isak – “Simon and the Oaks” is more notable for its depiction of the three adults in their lives. Their maternal figure is Karin (Helen Sjöholm), who, after Isak’s mother tries to kill her entire family when she learns of the impending Nazi invasion, becomes devoted to her son Simon and to the friend she and her husband take in. Isak’s father Ruben (Jan Josef Liefers), a Jewish businessman, delights in the arts and in bringing those he visits gifts, and though he is the victim of considerable harassment, his life or even his livelihood is never explicitly in jeopardy. Karin’s husband, Erik (Stefan Gödicke), called up to defend Sweden’s borders by the army, is initially kindly but soon proves himself to be a stern masculine figure, more interested in training one of his sons in hard work than indulging his other son’s interest in music.

While “Simon and the Oaks” appropriately chronicles Simon’s path towards his love for music due to the revelation of his Jewish background and a connection with Ruben, it skips ahead considerably in its timeline, starting out with Simon and Isak as young boys and then fast-forwarding to a number of years later when both are fully grown. Some of the development is lost as a result, and the film doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as it should. The film is at its most powerful in its first act and its final act, while it lags somewhat in the middle. All of the actors, however, deliver exceptional performances, firmly establishing their characters and their familial and emotional relationships with one another. The film’s score, which sounds during the opening credits, is confident and gorgeous, and serves as a fitting anthem for Simon and his complicated childhood.


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