Simon and the Oaks

Swedish TV broadcast the 2011 film "Simon and the Oaks" (Simon och ekarna) this evening with one of my favorite German actors, Jan-Josef Liefers, playing a supporting role.

The story, after a book by Marianne Fredriksson, is complicated. Simon is growing up in the late 1930s in a working class family near the water outside of Gothenburg. He is more interested in reading, his best friends are the oak trees high above the water. He insists on going to school in town, and there meets Isak, the son of a German Jewish bookseller who fled Berlin with his wife and son. Isak and Simon become friends, and slowly exchange families. Isak learns the trade of a carpenter, Simon embraces the music and literature he is exposed to in Isak's father's house.

Eventually, Simon learns that he is adopted and that his father was also a German Jew. He searches for his roots, eventually finding an uncle and learning that his birthfather died just a few years ago.

It is a sweet family story, a little heavy on the classical music, but it tells the story of how people came to terms with World War II living far away but still so near to the horrors that were happening.

Liefers is superb – he seems to have learned Swedish for the role. It is his voice, speaking excellent Swedish with a German accent, intermingled with German. The other characters are also very well done, complicated people with secrets and longings and desires. They are not plastic perfect happy people, but they are very real. The cinematography, cutting between seasons, inside and outside, light and dark, is very well done, capturing the spectacular light of Sweden on a sunny summer day and the gloom of deepest winter night. 

You feel that you have really gotten to know these people and want the story to continue as the credits begin to roll.