Category Archives: Oscar

Simple Simon Says: “Oscar Nom”

Swedish comedy Simple Simon by director Andreas Öhman  is shortlisted for the 2011 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. 

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


Denmark’s Paprika Steen Is Ready For Her Close-up…And Her Oscar

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of screening for the second time, the Danish award-winning film Applause at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, Ca.  Applause, directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet from a screenplay by Anders Frithiof August and Zandvliet, stars Denmark’s leading actress Paprika Steen and is produced by her husband Mikael Christian Rieks, founder of Koncern Film.  I had originally seen the film this past January when I covered the Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2010 for Moving Pictures Magazine. The powerful drama impressed me the first time I saw it, and more so this time as I realized that Paprika Steen is in every frame of this film–much of the time in extremely unforgiving close-up–and is captivating throughout.  She was equally appealing in person, with a charming, smart, likeable personality.

Left: my snapshot of Paprika Steen at the Aero Theater, Friday, December 3, 2010. 

Applause, which won both the Bodil (Denmark’s Golden Globe) and the Robert (Denmark’s Oscar) is making Oscar-qualifying runs in America, which started on December 3 in Los Angeles and continue this week in New York City prior to a wider national release by World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation (formerly OTCBB:WWMO), who has acquired exclusive North American distribution rights for the feature. Ms. Steen is here to support the film and her role, participating in a number of the screenings with an audience Q & A.   

Paprika Steen has already won a Robert for Best Actress for her role in Applause and was nominated for Best Actress for the Bodil.

If there ever was an Oscar-worthy performance, it is Steen’s compelling tour-de-force role as the 40-something aging actress Thea Barfoed in  Applause. Shot on 16mm, the film has a grainy, gritty quality and the almost monotone blue and amber tones give the movie an overall somber, dark ambience that underscores the film’s darker themes. At the moment, there is little sunlight in Thea’s life. 

Returning after an 18-month hiatus from her children’s lives and time spent in rehab, recovering alcoholic and famous stage actress Thea comes home to reclaim her life. At the same time that she attempts to re-connect with her children, ex-husband and his new wife as a sober woman, we see flashbacks of her on stage as she plays the booze-drenched Martha in  Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which, in a strange art imitates life situation, is actual footage from Steen’s brilliantly successful role in the play in a Copenhagen production.  Martha mirrors Thea’s inner demons as she struggles to leave the past behind and find the light.  

Using a process that the actress describes as relying more on intuition than method, Steen creates for us a refreshingly naturalistic and nuanced, unabashedly flawed human character that we cannot look away from, no matter how painful the moment.  With raw, honest emotion and intimate camera close-ups, Steen  ably lets us identify with and feel compassion for an imperfect woman who is struggling to recover her life and dignity, not always successfully but very humanly, with all the flaws, wrinkles and mistakes that real people experience.   Like the toys she buys for her sons–plastic Viking weapons–even her moments of playfulness are potentially menacing and emotionally ambiguous.  

Half-American, the 46-year-old actress was born in Denmark to the American actress Avi Sagild and Danish musician and conductor Niels Jørgen.  Steen is looking forward to returning to her mother’s roots and working in  America. When an audience member asked her when she would be coming here, she  was delighted to answer candidly that she’s currently in talks with people in the States.

So, we may be seeing more of  Paprika Steen in  America soon, maybe  as soon as February…at the Oscars.

(Photo right: Steen with  screen/real life son (left) Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks and child actor Noel Koch-Søfeldt)

Production stills courtesy of World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation.
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