Eskil & Trinidad (2013) — Image via sfinternational.se

Eskil & Trinidad

Directed by Stephan Apelgren (2013)

Stephan Apelgren’s Eskil & Trinidad has won a slew of recent awards. It took the Programmer’s Choice Award at the Chicago Children’s Film Festival, it won Best Feature Film at the Olympia International Film Festival for Children and Young People, and the European Children’s Film Association named it 2013’s Best Film for Children. Given the film’s dazzling snow-filled beauty, its depiction of characters who move through their daily lives calmly and deliberately without appearing aloof, and a string of interactions between adults and children that are touching without being saccharine, it’s easy to see why the accolades are mounting.

The film follows Eskil (Linus Oscarsson), an eleven-year-old boy who travels with his father, Roger (Torkel Petersson), as Roger installs power stations throughout remote towns in northern Sweden. The fact that Roger brings power to the residents of the many places he services and yet can’t rectify his own son’s powerlessness in the life they share is one of the film’s many gentle ironies. Early on we learn that Eskil very rarely stays at one school long enough to make friends, a point driven home not only by the bullies who harass him but also by the fact that he keeps several small photographs of his smiling face handy so that he can paste them on each new class picture he sends to his mother, Mette (Iben Hjejle), who works as a reporter in Copenhagen.

Eskil & Trinidad (2013) — Image via sfinternational.seEskil regularly voices his desire that he and Roger visit Mette more often than they do, something that Roger’s job does not seem to allow. Besides imposing constant travel on Eskil, Roger, an ex-hockey player who was on the cusp of being drafted to an American NHL team when a knee injury prevented this, insists that Eskil play goalie, like he did, in the youth teams of the towns where they stay, despite Eskil’s clear dislike for the sport. Luckily for Eskil, in the latest town where he and his father find themselves, Mirja (Saga Midfjäll), the daughter of his father’s colleague, is a brilliant goalie who has been forced to figure skate instead because the school they attend does not have a girls’ hockey team. Once Eskil’s coach realizes that Eskil is nowhere near the hockey player his father was and seems miserable to boot, he proposes that Mirja take Eskil’s place. Given the amount of equipment that goalies have to wear, they figure that no one will be any the wiser. They are correct, and Mirja ends up leading the team to victory during the “big game,” a convention of many children’s films that most viewers will be familiar with. The scene avoids feeling derivate for the simple fact that Eskil, the film’s protagonist, is entirely absent. Parents who have seen this type of scenario predictably play out in its many iterations can have a little chuckle at Apelgren’s ingenuity, and children will still leave the theater happy since Eskil’s former team wins. I appreciate that this scene falls a little past the midway point in the film, as it shows that competitiveness and athleticism, while certainly important in some circles, aren’t really what the film is about.

While Eskil is busy not playing hockey, he befriends Trinidad (Ann Petrén), a woman who basically functions as the town eccentric. Trinidad is not interested in endearing herself to the community, as she is busy building a ship to take anyone who wants to go with her to Trinidad, which she sees as an earthly paradise. There is an irreverence to her actions, seen especially when she openly tells a church congregation that there is no need to wait for heavenly paradise when places such as Trinidad exist. This being a children’s film, no one ever brings up the fact that Trinidad could easily book a flight to her desired destination and live out the rest of her days there. It’s not merely the payoff that’s important to Trinidad, but the preparation, the planning, and the journey itself. While I’m not one who thinks that every children’s film needs to come embedded with easily decipherable lessons, I can hardly think of a better one to impart.

Eskil & Trinidad (2013) — Image via sfinternational.seAs it just so happens, Eskil adores all things nautical, as we see by the many maritime gifts his mother has sent him. It seems inevitable that he and Trinidad will befriend one another regardless of the many warnings Eskil is given by his peers to keep his distance. Despite the fact that Eskil nearly kills Trinidad at their first meeting, the relationship between these two characters develops into one of the most rewarding aspects of the film. Trinidad’s attitude toward Eskil almost entirely lacks visible sentiment, and it turns out that this is just what he needs. As she gives him tasks that range from the mundane (sweeping the floor) to the complicated (operating an electric wood saw), we get the sense that Eskil’s boat-building chores are much more therapeutic than long talks or motherly hugs would be. Trinidad’s stoicism indicates that she trusts Eskil’s work, respects his privacy, and isn’t hankering to fill in for the mother he so desperately misses. Likewise, by agreeing to help Trinidad build her boat, Eskil is silently validating her plan to sail to Trinidad, providing her with encouragement when everyone else in town is quick to label her a lunatic. The two characters bolster each other in ways that are all the more powerful for remaining unspoken.

Speaking of Trinidad’s respect for Eskil, Roger and Mette, Eskil’s parents, are similarly depicted as people who approach their son with maturity and attunement. Although Roger’s job makes it impossible for Eskil to set down roots in any place for long, Roger is keenly aware of how this traveling lifestyle is affecting his son’s happiness. And while we are meant to think that Roger is somewhat oblivious for not realizing that his son dislikes hockey, once Eskil makes this clear to him, Roger is, after an initial bout of anger, accepting of the fact that his son will never be the goalie he was. Similarly, Mette is depicted as someone who values her son’s feelings deeply despite that fact that her absence causes him constant pain. In one scene where she visits Eskil, she explains to him that the extreme climate and lack of sunlight in the remote Swedish towns where Roger works make her severely depressed and that Copenhagen is a healthier place for her to live. When Eskil points out that lots of other people manage to live in these remote places, she tells him, “yes, but not me,” establishing herself as a character who loves her son but not to the complete annihilation of herself. Most impressively, she is completely honest about the necessity of balancing motherhood with self-care and seems to feel no need to guard Eskil from the fact that, while he is an important part of her life, he is not its sole part.

Eskil & Trinidad (2013) — Image via sfinternational.seToward the end of Eskil & Trinidad, it is implied that Roger and Mette will divorce; however, the film resists labeling either parent as the “bad” one and suggests that Eskil will travel between their homes as he wishes. The scene in which Roger speaks of the divorce with Eskil mimics the abovementioned scene where Mette discusses her depression. Roger is calm and straightforward, and he seems to treat Eskil as a thinking and feeling being, not an intellectual invalid or an emotional landmine who needs to be excessively coddled. It disturbs me a little that such a scene between a child and an adult feels as unique as it does, so used am I to the platitudes, clichés, and half-lies that seem to pepper these kinds of conversations in most films.

While I saw the film at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, I am hopeful that the film’s numerous awards will lead to a wider theatrical release. If this happens, Eskil & Trinidad is well worth your while. Children’s films this placidly beautiful and with this much genuine depth are hard to come by.

Published by

Emily Anderson

is completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Minnesota. She teaches literature and writing at several local educational institutions.