If Simon and the Oaks were an American film it would be an Oscar magnet, so it’s no surprise that this (buckle in for adjectives!) tender, sweeping, historical, picturesque, romantic coming-of-age drama with a boyishly beautiful star and stirring classical-music score netted a record 13 Guldbagge (aka “Swedish Oscar”) nominations. Set in Sweden around WWII, it follows bookish and dreamy Simon as he grows up on the seaside (land of stony coasts, rustic living, and gloriously moody fog) and attends a fancy city school where he befriends a Jewish family, fends off anti-Semitic classmates, and takes to urban life (dark-paneled wood, classical music, cognac, coeds). The conjoined dramas of the two families are echoed by the geopolitical dramas around them.
Based on the novel by Marianne Fredriksson, the film’s brightest revelations emerge in the second half, when the families stop holding their collective breath and adjust to life after wartime: hidden Jewish ancestry, the return of a beautiful but emotionally scarred woman who survived Auschwitz, and buried secrets. Is Simon emotionally scattershot? Yes. Is it manipulative? A little. But its NYT-endorsed “exquisite, and epic, ache” is as real as its soft-focus cinematography. If it doesn’t pull in at least one Oscar nomination, I’ll eat my hat.