"Son of Saul" is a harrowing drama about the Holocaust, and it has an impact you will feel long after viewing. A deceptively simple twist on how the story is presented ends up being one of the most amazing narrative devices in recent memory.
"Son of Saul" is a harrowing drama about the Holocaust, and it has an impact you will feel long after viewing.
A deceptively simple twist on how the story is presented ends up being one of the most amazing narrative devices in recent memory. This Hungarian import is the frontrunner for the Foreign Language Oscar, and that's more than deserved.
This may be the most powerful movie ever on this subject matter, and that's surely saying something.
Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner working at Auschwitz in October of 1944. His job is disposing of the dead.
While the sheer volume of death around him forces a detachment, Saul makes a discovery that sets him down a treacherous path. He finds his young son among the dead.
Amid the backdrop of a planned prisoner uprising, Saul tries to do one last thing for his son: give him a proper burial according to Jewish custom.
Director and co-writer László Nemes finds a simple and brilliant way to tell a story of great scope with a sharp focus and limited budget. "Son of Saul" follows its lead character in a very literal sense. The movie is shot almost entirely in close-up.
The impact of this is evident from the very first scene, one of the most searing ever committed to film. It still makes me tremble just to think about it. Know that this is not an easy film to watch, nor should it be.
The result of the cinematographic twist - pulled off magnificently by Mátyás Erdély - is that we focus on Saul's plight amid a literal background of atrocities. Seeing human beings treated like animals is not something to look away from. And seeing that as a constant backdrop plunges the viewer into the hell of Auschwitz.
With his near-constant screen time, "Saul" would only be as good as its lead performance allowed. Fortunately, Röhrig is outstanding. His Saul is desperate, but focused and determined. He reawakens a part of his humanity that had been forced out by his surroundings.
"Saul" also leaves much of its terror in the minds of viewers, like an effective horror movie. It's often not what you see that haunts you, but what you hear. It's a challenging experience, but one that's important.