Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2011 – Reviews
“I’m Simon. I have Asperger’s syndrome. I like space, circles and my brother Sam who always looks after me. I dislike feelings, other people, changes and romantic comedies with Hugh Grant.”
So begins Simple Simon the touching and hilarious comedy from Swedish director Andreas Öhman, submitted as Sweden’s Oscar contender and screened on January 15 at the Writer’s Guild Theater during the 2011 Scandinavian Film Festival LA. A few days later, the film was shortlisted for the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination. Not bad for a first feature from a filmmaker who turned 26 today.
Left: Director Andreas Öhman
(Photo: Kerstin Alm)
The story is about Simon, a young man who is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome, and how he sets out to solve his brother Sam’s love life. As the Swedish title suggests (loosely translated “there are no feelings in space”) Simon finds comfort in his facsimile space vehicle metal bucket and the regular routines of his life. Sam, who is the only person in the world Simon seems to trust, finds himself bereft when his girlfriend leaves him, partly due to Simon’s presence in their lives, disrupting Simon’s equilibrium. Simon in his inimitable scientific and unemotional way sets out to alleviate the situation and bring the comforting order back to his life by finding Sam a new girlfriend. In the process, Simon learns about love and everyone else gets a glimpse into themselves and the Simon in all of us who want order in our uncontrollable inner worlds of conflict, chaos and change.
Besides a terrifically smart, heartfelt, and laugh out loud screenplay by Öhman and co-writer (and co-producer) Jonathan Sjöberg, the film is carried by a terrific cast, especially Bill Skarsgård, who gives a stellar performance as the complex, difficult, yet likeable Simon.
The youngest of the international acting Skarsgård family and already a well-known actor in his own right, Bill had to convince Öhman to let him play the role. I asked Skarsgård and Öhman about Simon and their working relationship:
Andreas: “At first I didn’t want a star to play this role because I wanted the story to be about Simon, the character who has Asperger’s, and not about someone we know. But when Bill came to me with his ideas, I was convinced he would be good for the role.”
Bill: “I researched, of course, about Asperger’s and the character became a collaboration between me and Andreas. I definitely had my own ideas about this character. It went back and forth.”
The Brothers Skarsgård: Gustaf, Bill, and Alexander
(Photo: Kerstin Alm)
The film accurately captures the reality of Asperger’s, as demonstrated during the Q&A period when a psychologist who was sitting in the audience and who specializes in the field said that the filmmaker was spot on in his depiction of the syndrome. But Öhman’s purpose was not documentary. Says Öhman about his character, “I want people to identify with Simon. I wanted to show that just because someone has this kind of problem, there is still humor in their life, there is laughter, and it’s not always just this serious thing. It’s a character that has Asperger’s but Simon is a character first.”
One of the film’s strong points is its brilliant use of beautiful animation, which is used to visually represent the various aspects of Simon’s state of mind and thinking processes. This is no surprise as Öhman ‘s production company Naive Film is also an animation studio. (See example still here and clips in the trailer below).
I may wake up tomorrow and have to update this story, elevating this film’s status from “shortlisted” to “nominated”. There could be worse things. In any event, we will see this director’s star rising for years to come.
See film credits below the trailer:
Director: Andreas Öhman
Screenplay: Andreas Öhman & Jonathan Sjöberg
Production: Naive AB
Producer: Bonnie Skoog Feeney & Jonathan Sjöberg
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Martin Wallström, Cecilia Forss, Sofie Hamilton
Director of Photography: Niklas Johansson