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Originally published Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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'Simon and the Oaks': A friendship takes root in WWII survival tale

A movie review of "Simon and the Oaks," a taut, absorbing Swedish tale of destiny and survival that focuses on two boys from opposite sides of the tracks.

The Washington Post

Movie review

'Simon and the Oaks,' with Jonatan S. Wächter, Bill Skarsgård, Karl Martin Eriksson, Jan Josef Liefers, Lena Nylén. Directed by Lisa Ohlin, from a screenplay by Ohlin and Marnie Blok, based on a novel by Marianne Fredriksson. 123 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains obscenity, nudity, sex, anti-Semitism and other disturbing thematic material). In Swedish and German, with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.

The Washington Post does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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The stirring, philosophically minded Swedish drama "Simon and the Oaks" covers 13 years, during which the title character grows from a boy (played by Jonatan S. Wächter) to a man (Bill Skarsgård). In the process, young Simon Larsson weathers some pretty profound storms.

That World War II is one of those storms is mitigated by the fact Simon is a Swede, living in a country that managed to maintain its neutrality, while neighboring Norway and Denmark were occupied by the Nazis. In 1939, when the story begins, and in the years following, Sweden became a haven for Jews fleeing persecution.

This is not to say there was no anti-Semitism. One of the earliest scenes shows Simon punching a bigoted schoolmate in the face, in defense of his new Jewish friend, Isak (Karl Martin Eriksson).

That friendship — between a boy from a working-class Christian family and the son of wealthy Jewish immigrants from Berlin (Jan Josef Liefers and Lena Nylén) — forms the movie's framework.

Based on the best-selling novel by Swedish author Marianne Fredriksson, "Simon and the Oaks" is not merely the story of two boys from opposite sides of the tracks. It's also a larger meditation on life's hardships and what endures: love, art and civilization.

Beautifully shot on the west coast of Sweden, overlooking the North Sea, "Simon and the Oaks" is a taut, absorbing tale of destiny and survival. It's also uniformly well-acted, with an assured and sensitive performance by Skarsgard, the son of actor Stellan Skarsgard.

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