Son of Saul
Leaving them unprepared and out of breath, Son of Saul demands from its viewers a close, restless companionship with a man wandering through the hell that is the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in the year 1944, not long before the end of World War II. Géza Röhrig’s face, expressions and interactions are in almost every shot of the movie, as he tries to incarnate the hardships of Saul, a Hungarian Jew imprisoned in the genocide’s horrible epicentre, who is forced to help the Nazis with their systematic killing of his own people. He is picked to be part of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners forced to work in the crematorium and assist with mass murder. With the Red Army slowly approaching, the cold mechanics of death become even more nervous, rushed and confusing.
Saul witnesses the horrors of the gas chambers every day and stoically wanders through the dehumanising and fragile prolongation of his own life. His routine is stuck in the machinery of evil, between dead bodies, the gas chambers and the ovens. The seeming apathy in his face is finally broken when he spots a dead young boy whom he believes to be his son. In a desperate effort, he tries to save the little body from the flames and find a rabbi to give the boy a proper burial, while the Sonderkommando prepares for armed revolt.
Cinematic history has seen quite a number of visions of the Shoa, though occasionally more eclectic, and one might wonder what László Nemes’ tale of hopeless human struggle contributes to the existing illustration of the past. However, the audiovisual masterstroke that is Son of Saul has a rather unique raison d’être, which is rooted in its technical implementation. The camera sticks close to the protagonist, looks over trembling shoulders, rushes along with the running prisoners, glides over their whispering faces and almost never provides the big picture in an overall perspective. The resulting claustrophobia of constant threats, lurking dangers, shots in the dark, shouting guards and barking dogs becomes all the more present and potent with this genius camera and, very crucially, sound work. Rarely has an audience ever been sucked into such a horrible and almost unimaginable situation in this way; they need to be ready to do so.
Son of Saul is released nationwide on 29th April 2016.
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Watch an excerpt from Son of Saul here: