April 3, 2016
Director: László Nemes
Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn
Runtime: 107 minutes
Language: Hungarian, Yiddish, German, Polish
Warning: Intense scenes
Academy Awards, Golden Globes, National Board of Review: Best Foreign Language Film. 43 other award wins, 37 nominations
“Director László Nemes films within a very claustrophobic and shallow-focused frame, bringing home the reality of the Nazi horror while also leaving much terror to the imagination.”—Peter Howell, Toronto Star
As with every Holocaust film, Son of Saul will stir debate that cinema is too trivial to encompass such profound evil. But there’s nothing trivial about this Hungarian masterwork from first-time director László Nemes. One does not merely witness horror; one feels it within their bones.
Nemes keeps his camera tightly focused on Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig), a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz. Saul temporarily escapes the ovens by serving with the Sonderkommando, Jews coerced to help execute other Jews and dispose of the bodies. The tight-framed camera allows the audience to see only what Saul sees, the more heinous acts blurred in the background, but all the more terrifying for that.
Tension surges when Saul finds a boy who has survived the gas. When the boy dies, Saul makes it his impossible goal to provide a Jewish burial. Is the boy Saul’s own son? Does he represent Saul’s breaking point, the embodiment of the crime and insult to Saul’s people made manifest in a single tragedy? It is as his fixation is rather a kind of irrational response to irrationality — or to be more precise, an irrational humane response to irrational cruelty.
All one needs to know is in the haunted eyes of Röhrig, whose raw and riveting performance deserves superlatives. Nemes is tackling a subject of enormous complexity. The result is, quite simply, a great film.