Simon and the Oaks: Swedes, Jews, and World War II

Lisa Ohlin's Simon and the Oaks has all the superficial elements of compelling drama but none of the interiority; it looks like a good movie without ever actually feeling like one. Try to imagine low-rent Spielberg set in Sweden: whimsical children with intertwined fates, Nazis looming on the horizon, and even the slightest hint of the fantastical amid the soft-focus '40s milieu. In a way, it's not unlike The Intouchables: another country's version of middlebrow award-bait that, after doing well domestically, gets exported to America despite being Hollywood-inflected to begin with. (Indeed, the film received a record-setting 13 nominations at Sweden's equivalent of the Oscars, and arrives on U.S. shores likely hoping to land a nod for Best Foreign Language Film at the actual Oscars.) In expending so much energy on aping the conventions of prestige pictures, though, it never gets around to simply telling a good story. Simon's is a familiar tune, one we've heard performed better before—a shame, given its opportunity to fill the cinematic void that is Scandinavia's comparatively overlooked involvement in World War II. Ohlin's film tends to relegate its most interesting aspects to the background, its mind always elsewhere (most often, a forced authenticity in capturing its period setting) when it comes time to imbue its characters and incidents with the import their appearances imply.

 
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