Sunday, 23 June 2013

Simon and the Oaks (Simon och erkana) Film Review

Note: In Swedish with English subtitles

simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana
 Simon Larsson is a cerebral child, the son of a boat maker and his wife, whose deep penchant for history, books and art is out of keeping with his working-class roots. The disharmony between Simon's upbringing and his yearning for the more intellectual threads of life is most palpable in an early scene between the youngster and his father. Mr. Larsson warns Simon to remember where he comes from, after reluctantly enrolling his son in a grammar school frequented by the wealthy.

There Simon meets Isak, the Jewish son of a wealthy bookstore owner. Simon is introduced to and enamoured with the world of the upper classes and soon finds himself on a path which sets him further apart from the values of his upbringing.
simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana

Isak and his father however come from a volatile background of their own and the backdrop of WW2 serves to heighten the turbulence of what becomes an inextricable link between the two families. Both harbour secrets which hang menacingly throughout the narrative and prompt Simon on a journey of painful self-discovery.
Isak escapes from the persecution of the Jews and his own personal demons in the solace of Simon's home life, building a surrogate relationship with Mr. Larrson. The two relish in their shared love for practical labour, to the detriment and expense of the already strained relationship between Simon and his father. Likewise, Simon finds a kindred spirit in Isak's father who indulges his love for music and history, all the while impressing on Simon that ultimately his life choices are his own.

simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana

The discord of Simon's familial relationships and the angry overtones of war denote the enduring gulf between Simon and those around him. He finds solace in and draws comfort from the unyielding, stalwart oak tree of the film's title. Daydreaming amongst the imagined whispers of history as they ride on the wind and through its branches, the Oak tree symbolises a sense of constancy and placement that Simon so desires.

 Jonatan S. Wächter delivers a stand-out performance, eclipsing those of his older counterparts with an ephemeral quality which fits perfectly with Simon's transient nature. His manner evokes that of an old soul, haunted with the anxieties of the past and bereft of somebody who can truly understand him. Bill Skarsgård maintains the childlike quality of his younger counterpart's performance as he takes the torch from Wächter and carries it into Simon's teenage years. A wide eyed young man, Skarsgård's Simon drifts further from within himself in a journey of wider self-discovery, family secrets and romantic relations.

Bill Skarsgård, simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana
 Simon and the Oaks' cinematography features beautiful shots of nature at its most peaceful - untouched by the violence of war and the turmoil of the narrative. With the overwhelming changes to Simon's world, both personally and with regards to the wider political context, both he and the audience derive a sense of calm from the ageless and rural pastoral. The soundtrack is equally as stirring, evoking the same sense of yearning possessed by Simon in aching violin notes with beautiful, melodious undertones. In both nature and music, Simon finds his peace and place in the world - fitting, for both are timeless and belong to no time or context.
"It was as if I knew it. As if... I'd been there before. Inside the music."
simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana
"Jewish" - Annette Focks
A beautifully shot coming of age tale, this film prompted me to seek out its novel counterpart, which I will endeavour to post about soon!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Longest Journey - E.M Forster (Book Review)

Rickie Elliot, a Cambridge graduate, grapples with his existential ideals and literary aspirations with the unpleasant practicalities of life. 

I have to admit upon buying this book I committed the age old sin of judging by its cover. If there's one thing I love about TK Maxx, it's scouring through their book section. Amidst the cook books and travel guides, you're guaranteed to find a random literary gem. A quick scan of the blurb and an impulse purchase was made - little did I realise how poignant it was that I came to choose The Longest Journey at the time.
e.m. forster, the longest journey, the longest journey book review

Completing my final year exams, I felt disillusioned with life in general. It felt odd not to have the comfort of knowing I'd be returning to education in September to alleviate any guilt from a somewhat idle summer. Neither did it help that the overwhelming task of properly starting a 'working life' had become more apparent than ever before. I immediately missed the library and the silent camaraderie of that environment. I really appreciated that this revision period would be the last of my life, and I would never really engage in learning in quite the same way again.

The Longest Journey has been the perfect read for such an ambivalent time. Centred on Rickie Elliot, the protagonist of the novel and a recent graduate of Cambridge, the story follows his endeavours to appreciate and understand the philosophical ideals of truth and beauty, his search for a higher purpose and his ill-advised marriage to the object of his infatuation, Agnes Pembroke. The novel is split into three parts, tracing Rickie's journey from university, his engagement to Agnes and relationship with the morally dubious Aunt Emily, to his reluctant career as a public school teacher.

Rickie is an idealist and indulges in the solace he derives from the common purpose he and his friends share at Cambridge - the quest for higher knowledge. Grappling with existentialism, Rickie deplores that he has yet to possess the same grade of thinking as his peers. Yet what he might lack in philosophical acumen, Rickie makes up for in a more personable appreciation of the human condition - specifically, the fragility of relationships.

"But he was not cynical - or cynical in a very tender way. He was thinking of the irony of friendship - so strong it is, and so fragile. We fly together, like straws in an eddy, to part in the open stream. Nature has no use for us: she has cut her stuff differently. Dutiful sons, loving husbands, responsible fathers - these are what she wants, and if we are friends it must be in our spare time.
'I wish we were labelled.' said Rickie. He wishes that all the confidence and mutual knowledge that is born in such a place as Cambridge could be organised. People went down in the world saying 'We know and like each other; we shan't forget. But they did forget, for man is so made that he cannot remember long without a symbol; he wishes there was a society, a kind of friendship office, where the marriage of true minds could be registered."

It's passages like these I found comforting. If you're in the same ambiguous transition, you find an affinity with Rickie. For all his grandiose notions of seeking the ultimate good in people - an endeavour for which he is chastised for by his practical-minded friends -
'You think it so splendid to hate no one. I tell you it is a crime. You want to love everyone equally and that's worse than impossible. It's wrong.'
- he ironically hits upon the effect of such practicalities on our lives. We lose friends to make way for social convention and propriety, and this is what Rickie finds so lamentable - despite engaging in these conventions himself. This is evident in his engagement to Agnes and his later career as a school teacher - one that carries him further away from his real enthusiasm in becoming a writer.

The novel moves swiftly from one third to the next, though at times the narrative dwells just a little too long on scenic or architectural descriptions. This is quite at odds with Rickie's point of view, which is almost always concerned with moral propriety and higher ideals. To me it was always a way of reminding the audience of the contrast between Rickie's inner dialogue and that of his surrounding milieu.
Otherwise, Forster isn't too concerned with the intricate complexities of how relationships develop. He identifies the most significant moments and important transitions  and uses these to drive the story and Rickie's journey forward.