Film review: SON OF SAUL, from ‘Built For Speed’

Son of Saul is one of the most remarkable and disturbing films of recent times. Set in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the later stages of the Second World War, the film depicts the tragic experiences of Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig) a Hungarian Jewish inmate recruited to the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners forced into the hideous task of helping the Germans with the extermination of other prisoners before facing execution themselves. In the aftermath of one horrific mass execution Saul finds the body of a young boy with whom he develops a unique connection. Amid the horror of the camp and the chaos of a revolt, Saul undertakes the seemingly impossible task of saving the boy’s body from cremation, finding a Rabbi to administer the mourner’s Kaddish (or prayer) and giving the boy a proper burial.

Son of Saul is immediately striking for its unusual visual style. Almost the entire film is shot in mid close-up on Saul with the camera tracking him through the labyrinthine hell of the death camp. This technique is disconcerting at first but powerfully conveys the way in which people in his role retreated within themselves to block out the surrounding horrors. This approach also makes the terrifying circumstances depicted more realistic as it immerses us in the chaos of the camp. Much of the violence occurs at the periphery of the frame but the sense of an unseen threat this engenders makes the experience all the more unsettling, particularly when combined with the film’s disturbing dark industrial soundscape.

Partly due to its minimalist plot, the film occasionally loses some of its intensity, particularly in the middle section but it quickly grabs us by the throat again.

With minimal dialogue much of the film’s humanity is conveyed through Géza Röhrig’s grim visage. Rohrig delivers an astonishing performance as he captures the fear, revulsion and the stoic determination of a man desperately trying to navigate his way through hell. Fittingly, director László Nemes, during his Oscar speech after Son of Saul won for Best Foreign Language Film, acknowledged Rohrig’s brilliant performance as one of the most vital elements of the film.

It’s hardly a revelation to say that, in an era when ideological and religious differences are increasingly dividing people, this is a vitally important film.

Nick’s rating: ****1/2.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): László Nemes.

Release date: 25th February 2016.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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