Politics is at the heart of the Swedish Simon and the Oaks–the politics of war and the politics of family. These politics, no matter the type, are messy, complicated, and don’t always make for comfortable viewing. This applies when a Jewish mother tries to set the apartment on fire to spare her family from the terrors of invading Nazis. This also applies when an adopted boy acts like an ungrateful little brat to the loving parents that raised him.
That ungrateful little brat is Simon, a Swedish boy who struggles with his identity while the rest of Europe struggles through World War 2. The film begins in 1939, where Simon is a sensitive tyke living in the Swedish countryside. Simon’s parents, who adopted him as an infant, are working class folk who live simply and humbly. Simon prefers the company of an Oak tree and books to friends and work, something his carpenter father struggles with greatly. Eventually, Simon convinces his family to send him to a fancy boarding school in the big city, where he becomes best friends with a young Jewish lad named Isak. Simon is immediately taken with Isak’s rich and cultured family but both he and Isak must return to Simon’s farm to wait out the war and the hell it brings.
Simon and the Oaks covers Simon’s life from 1939 through 1952, up until the film’s unsatisfying conclusion. That it’s unsatisfying is not a result of the storytelling so much as it is the story itself, but that’s life sometimes–unsatisfying. What’s most interesting about the film is just how insufferable and unlikable Simon can be; the Nazis are invading and he can’t shut up about his piano lessons. It’s gross.
‘Simon and the Oaks’ is playing at Royal Oak’s Main Art Theatre.
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