Simon and the Oaks (Simon och ekarna)

Directed By: Lisa Ohlin

Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Helen Sjöholm, Jonatan Wächter, Stefan Gödicke, and Jan Josef Liefers

Violins seem to be back in style at indie theaters this fall.  We had Chicken with Plums last month, Simon and the Oaks this month, and A Late Quartet next month.  All these films are about violinists.  While I definitely love the strings, I would happily welcome a flick about some other instrument.  For now, I'm going to tell you all about the Swedish family drama Simon and the Oaks. 

To his parents Erik and Karin (Stefan Gödicke & Helen Sjöholm), Simon (Jonathan S. Wächter — young Simon & Bill Skarsgård — adult Simon) is an unusual little boy.  He has no friends.  He reads all the time.  He doesn't help his father Erik with his woodwork or show any interest in doing so in the future.  He even has extensive conversations with the oak trees on the family's property.  When Simon submits an application for a rather expensive school in town, his parents indulge his request.  They believe going to school might help him make some new friends, and he does.  He becomes friends with a young Jewish boy by the name of Isak (Karl Martin Eriksson — young Isak & Karl Linnertorp — older Isak).

It's 1939 and war is beginning to rage all over Europe once again.  As Simon and Isak become closer, their families do so as well.  Simon normally frequents the bookstore owned by Isak's father Ruben (Jan Josef Liefers) and even meets Isak's reclusive mother Olga (Lena Nylén).  When Olga becomes terrified of what the Nazis could do if they were to invade Sweden, she opts to burn her family alive instead.  Though unsuccessful, her attempt at the unthinkable necessitates her to be placed in a sanatorium and Isak to live with Simon's family.  As World War II and the Holocaust take place, these families become closer than ever.  Interestingly enough, an unsaid competition for the boys' affections ensues between Ruben and Erik.

Simon and the Oaks is a solid family drama.  With the backdrop of World War II, very intriguing familial situations, and an emphasis on violins, the film doesn't quite have the potent combination that would make it great.  There's a clear theme of a conflict between Erik and Ruben fueled by envy that emerges during the first half of the film.  After the first half, director Lisa Ohlin begins to lose focus on this theme and tries to introduce too many other themes.  Ultimately, this takes away from the film.  In its second half, Simon and the Oaks quickly deteriorates from an engaging family drama to an unfocused, meandering film.

Thematic issues aside, Simon and the Oaks is an enjoyable film.  We've got solid performances from all actors involved.  We have an interesting story building around the Holocaust and the struggles of being Jewish during this nightmarish time.  We've even got a gorgeous score fueled by rich classical selections on the violin that set the tone of the film at critical moments.  All in all, there's a lot going for the film as Ohlin does get a lot of things right.

Simon and the Oaks is a film that will hold your attention when you first watch it, but you'll probably never want to see it again.  It's a well done production that offers a very simple, often predictable narrative.  It has plenty of strong moments as well as plenty of weak ones.  Weighing all the pros and cons, I have to give the film a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc with this one.