Usually we reserve this space for photos and reviews about events we’ve shot, but one of the other perks of shooting a film festival is that sometimes we get to review the actual films as well! As I mentioned in my last post, I had some downtime during Hurricane Sandy to watch one of the HIFF movies, “Simon and the Oaks” directed by Lisa Ohlin. I have to admit, when I popped the DVD into my laptop I had NO idea what this movie was about, who was in it, or where it took place. It just happened to be the DVD sitting closest to me on my table when I was looking for something to watch. Normally I’d read up on something before watching it to make sure it was something that I might be interested in spending a couple of hours on, but this time I just said to myself “surprise me!” and that’s just what this movie did…
An epic drama spanning the years 1939 to 1952, this is the gripping story of Simon (played as the adult by Bill Skarsgård, son of Stellan, and named by the Berlin Film Festival Jury as one of the Shooting Stars of 2012 for this performance), who grows up in a loving working class family on the outskirts of Gothenburg but always feels out of place. Intellectually gifted, he stubbornly persists in acquiring an education normally reserved for young men of the professional classes, much to the chagrin of his parents who fear that he will become stuck up. He finally convinces his father to send him to an upper-class grammar school, where he meets Isak, the son of a wealthy Jewish bookseller who has fled Nazi persecution in Germany. Simon is dazzled by the books, art and music he encounters in the home of Isak’s father Ruben (Jan Josef Liefers), which makes Simon long to know more about his own family background. Isak, on the other hand, draws comfort from learning to do something with his hands, helping Simon’s dad (Stefan Godicke) make boats. When Isak faces trouble at home, he is taken in by Simon’s family and the two households slowly merge, connecting in unexpected ways as war rages all over Europe.
Simon and the Oaks is based on the Swedish bestseller of the same name, written by Marianne Fredriksson. It offers a unique depiction of fate, destiny and free will and vividly portrays the situation for Jews in Sweden during World War II.
This is a foreign film in Swedish and German with English subtitles, something I don’t mind, but wasn’t expecting when I first popped the DVD in for what I thought would be a night of mindless entertainment in the dark. The film opens with some beautiful visuals of Simon daydreaming in his oak tree by the water but quickly evolves into a heady drama filled with themes about war, antisemitism, family, and of course love and loss. My only complaint about the movie is that it seems as though not enough time is spent on each major topic. Simon goes from being a child at the beginning of the war to being an adolescent celebrating the end of the war in the next scene. His best friend goes from a sort of emotional breakdown from a traumatic childhood event to becoming a father without too much in between. Granted, the movie would probably have been way too long if they tried to fill in all those details, but it just has the feeling of trying to pack too much into a couple of hours at the expense of a seamless plot. Otherwise, I found the story line to be very intriguing, the visuals very captivating, and the casting very well done. Young Simon and older Simon look like the same person and I thought the acting was superb. There’s a reason this film received a record 13 nominations for the Sweden’s 2012 Guldbagge Awards (equivalent of our Oscars) including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Cinematography.
“Simon And The Oaks” has been a favorite book of mine for a long time. The reason I connect so strongly to it is of course partly personal. My mother’s family escaped from a certain death in Berlin to a new life in New York in 1939. Growing up as a survivor gave her guilt, but she, as well as the rest of the family, dealt with it by not talking about it. My mother suddenly died when I was five, so my brother and I moved to join our father in Sweden. He had the same method – avoidance – that meant that my mother was never mentioned again.
I was obviously very different from all the blond and blue eyed Swedes, but, just like Simon, I simply assumed I wasn’t as good as “normal Swedes” and I better not ask too much as to why.
When I was seventeen, we moved back to the States. I finally got to meet my mother’s family. To suddenly see people that resembled me, to get photos of and letters written by my mother, and to hear them talk about things that I thought I had been mad for thinking about, was quite an overwhelming experience. Finding out that I am Jewish, with all the ramifications, gave me a place in history. So, as you can see, I identify with Simon’s journey and his search for his place in the world.
Of course, personal identification with a character’s journey isn’t enough reason to make a film. Somehow, all my films deal with the same theme in one or another way – the theme of fearing and daring to find out who you really are, where you come from, and what are you standing up for it. I truly believe we all have an unconscious connection to our past, and that it is a part of every person’s journey to find out where they come from and what their place in history is.
It has always been my ambition to tell my stories on all levels – physical, social, psychological and spiritual. The story of Simon is of a young person’s journey – but it is also the story of the struggle between good and evil, between love and hate and between fear and courage. It is about the small choices we make that later define our lives.
LISA OHLIN – director
Swedish/American Lisa Ohlin has directed four feature films, as well as TV series and commercials. Her films have been nominated to a total of 21 “Guldbaggen” (Swedish Oscars) and have won three. She has won several awards abroad, among others the “Innovation award” at Montreal Film Festival for “Sex Hope and Love”, and “Best script” at Hamburg Film Festival for “Simon And The Oaks”. Her TV series “Kvalster”/ “Mites” was nominated for best TV series of the year in Sweden.
She was educated in Washington DC and New York and has a Masters of Art in Film from New York University.
After years of stage work in musicals during college, as well as a BA in drawing, Lisa devoted herself to painting for many years, and then turned to a successful career in film.
From 2007 to 2009 Lisa Ohlin was selected and served as the Swedish film commissioner for feature films by the Swedish Film Institute. Upon leaving that position, she directed “Simon and the Oaks”. With a budget of $7,5 million it is the fourth most expensive feature film ever produced in Sweden.
Ms Ohlin is currently directing the Pulizer prize-winning, Tony awarded musical NEXT TO NORMAL, for Stockholms Stadsteater. In the Fall of 2012, she will film the two concluding episodes of “Wallander”, the critically acclaimed crime stories of Henning Mankell.
CHRISTER NILSON – producer
Christer Nilson is the CEO of the production company GötaFilm AB, a company that he started in 1988. He also used to be the chairman of Föreningen Sveriges Filmproducenter (2005-2008) and is the Adjunct Professor of Film Production at University West. Here is a selection of his film and TV productions; “Between Summers” (1995), “The New Country” (2000-TV), “Slim Susie” (2003), “Saltön” (2005 – 2010-TV), “Details” (2003), “Offside” (2006), “How Soon Is Now” (2007-TV), “Everlasting Moments” (2008), “Simon and the Oaks” (2008-2011) and “I Miss You” (2011).
SIMON AND THE OAKS is the first film adaptation made of one of Marianne Fredriksson’s books. That it was produced by me and GötaFilm feels like coming full circle, just starting out as a producer I read the book with delight and met Marianne Fredriksson in 1989 at a reading in Gothenburg. Back then someone else acquired the rights and many have tried but failed to develop and finance a film adaptation since. The greatest success was the theatre production that was put up by Folkteatern in Gothenburg in 2007-2008. It was very good and played to sold-out houses for a year. The film project came back to me in 2007, through the Danish producer Per Holst (Pelle the Conqueror etc.) who then, within the framework of Nordisk Film, had acquired the rights to the book. At the time there was already a finished screenplay written by the Dutch screenwriter, actress etc., Marnie Blok, and a director, Björn Runge, attached. After Runge resigned, Holst and I collaborated with the co-producers to come up with a selection of directors that we deemed suitable. We invited some of them to articulate their visions and finally decided on Lisa Ohlin!
Now in 2011, the film is finally finished. After four years of production and with thirty financiers from five countries, together we’ve made one of the most expensive feature films in Sweden. It is generous, beautiful, epic and emotional, just as I hoped after meeting Marianne Fredriksson at a library in 1989!”
BILL SKARSGÅRD as Simon
Born in Stockholm in 1990 (son of actor Stellan Skargård). In 2009 Bill graduated from Södra Latins gymnasium (an upper secondary school), majoring in acting. He can be seen in several major Swedish movies like “Kenny Begins” (2009), “Arn – The Kingdom at Road’s End” (2008), Behind Blue Skies and “Simple Simon” (2010), in the latter he received a Best Lead Actor nomination at the Gulbagge Awards. Most recently Bill was in Ella Lemhagen’s film, ”The Crown Jewels”. Amongst other productions are – ”White Water Fury” 2000, ”Laura Trenter – Dan, the Policeman” (TV) 2002 and ”Livet i Fagervik” (TV) 2009. The Berlin Film Festival Jury named Bill as one of the Shooting Stars of 2012 for this performance in SIMON AND THE OAKS.
HELEN SJÖHOLM as Karin
Helen was born in Sundsvall on July 10th, 1970 and studied jazz and pop song at Kulturama. Her professional stage debut was in the song and entertainment group “Just For Fun” in the late 80’st, and in 1988 Stallbröderna gave her their annual Award. She has participated in many musicals and theatre productions and received multiple awards for accomplishments in both music and theatre throughout the years. She had her big breakthrough as Kristina in the musical “Kristina från Duvemåla”, which premiered at the Malmö Musikteater in 1995. In the following year she participated in the successful B&B-concerts. In 1999 she debuted on the silver screen in Richard Hobert’s “Where the Rainbow Ends”, before then she had lent her voice to several animated movies. In 2004 she played Gabriella in Kay Pollak’s “As It Is In Heaven”. In 2010-2011 she played one of the leads in Stockholms Stadsteater’s production of “Aniara”. As an artist, Helen is currently releasing a CD and is in the BAO-orchestra.
STEFAN GÖDICKE as Erik
Actor and singer Stefan Gödicke was born in 1970. He studied at the School of Theatre and Opera in 1994-1997. After finishing his studies he worked at Riksteatern, Atelierteatern and Uppsala Stadsteater. Besides working in theater he has also been in a lot of TV productions and is probably the most known for his roles in “Superintendent Winter”, “Irene Huss”’, “Saltön”, and as Tony in “Andra Avenyn”.
JAN JOSEF LIEFERS as Ruben
Jan was born in 1964 in Dresden, Germany, and is one of Germany’s most well know and praised actors. He studied acting at the Hochschule für Schauspielkunst ”Ernst Busch” in Berlin between 1983 and 1987. He started his singing career simultaneously with his acting career in 1998. He has been in many German TV and film productions, amongst those in the
TV-series “Tatort” and the feature film “Baader Meinhof Complex” (2008).
KARL LINNERTORP as Isak
Karl was born in 1986 and grew upp in Limhamn. He studied at the Stockholm University College of Acting. The film productions Karl has been in are: “Four Shades of Brown” (2004), “Buss till Italien” (2005) and “Everlasting Moments” (2008).
MARIANNE FREDRIKSSON – writer
Marianne Fredriksson was a groundbreaking journalist, who in the midst of her career turned into a world famous author, immensely loved by her numerous readers.
However, domestic critics were in general more reserved towards her books.
After more than thirty years in journalism, Fredriksson debuted as a fiction writer with ”The Book of Eve”, which was to be followed by fourteen more novels.
Her definite international breakthrough came with the novel “Hanna’s Daughters”. She had an especially large number of readers in the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, and the largest number of readers were located in Germany (where also Astrid Lindgren’s books are internationally the most popular). Eventually Fredriksson also conquered, amongst other countries, USA, Japan, China and Australia.
According to data from 2007, Marianne Fredriksson’s books have sold no less that 17 million copies World wide. They have been translated to around 45 languages.
“Simon and the Oaks”, which Lisa Ohlin’s film is based on, was together with novels by Isabel Allende and John Grisham amongst the 10 books that dominated the world wide bestsellers list in the literary season of 1999/2000. ”Simon and the Oaks” has been translated to 25 languages and has sold more than 4 million copies.
“Simon and the Oaks” screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival on Sunday, October 7 and opened at The Paris Theatre in NYC on October 12.