Son of Saul

(2015)

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Title:
Son of Saul
Release Date:
11th June 2015
Runtime:
107 min
MPAA Rating:
R
Genres:
Directors:
Laszlo Nemes
Writers:
Clara Royer, Laszlo Nemes
Languages:
Hungarian, Yiddish, German, Russian, Polish, French, Greek, Slov
Stream Quality:
1080p / 720p / 480p

Storyline

Two days in the life of Saul Auslander, Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando at one of the Auschwitz Crematoriums who, to bury the corpse of a boy he takes for his son, tries to carry out his impossible deed: salvage the body and find a rabbi to bury it. While the Sonderkommando is to be liquidated at any moment, Saul turns away of the living and their plans of rebellion to save the remains of a son he never took care of when he was still alive.

Ratings

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 96%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience 81%
IMDb Rating 7.6

Casts

Geza Rohrig as Saul Auslander
Jerzy Walczak as Rabbi Frankel
Levente Molnar as Abraham Warszawski
Todd Charmont as Bearded Prisoner
Urs Rechn as Oberkapo Biederman

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Ruben Mooijman 11th November, 2015

Hard-hitting movie experience

This movie starts completely out of focus - literally. The viewer sees only vague shapes moving around. Is this a technical error or an experiment gone wrong? Nothing of the kind. After a while, the face of lead character Saul Auslander moves close to the camera - and into focus. And it stays this way. In the first few minutes, the camera stays within a range of 50 centimeters from Saul's face. Or I should say: Saul's head - because sometimes we see only the side or the back of his head. The effect of this style of filming is no less than spectacular. All kinds of things are happening around Saul. Horrible things, we soon learn. But we never get to see them close by. We only see shapes, out of focus, at the extreme fringes of the screen, and we hear the sounds. And we keep seeing his face, in focus. He moves around, works, does things, and all the while all we see is his face. Soon we understand where he is: in a Nazi concentration camp. Saul belongs to a Sonderkommando, a group of Jews who are temporarily spared from death to do the labour the Germans don't want to do. In the midst of the terrible atrocities, it becomes his mission to bury a boy he believes is his son. This film is unique in showing the concentration camp for what is is: hell on earth. Naked dead bodies being dragged around, desperate people being shot indiscriminately, complete absence of anything humanity stands for. It is exactly this total loss of dignity that drives Saul in his hopeless quest for a way to organize a proper burial for the dead boy. Son of Saul is the complete antithesis of that other monumental Holocaust movie: Schindler's List. While Spielberg's film is made according to all the rules of good film making, Son of Saul is a claustrophobic trip, without any possible concession to commercial appeal. The dialogue is often hardly comprehensible, spoken in three languages, sometimes not louder than a whisper. Not all the acts and events are quite clear, and only after a while you understand what exactly drives Saul. This is a unique, hard-hitting movie experience. When you go see it, don't expect a well-rounded story with heroes and villains and a nice ending. But expect to be swept away.

Reviewed by Sergeant_Tibbs 21st October, 2015

László Nemes' modern masterwork dwarfs every other film on offer.

You cannot take the Holocaust lightly in film. Some have tried, but it fails. Laszlo Nemes' Son of Saul takes the Holocaust very seriously. Instead of recounting it in a sombre documentary-esque way such as Schindler's List or even the gut-wrenching approach Alain Resnais takes to Night and Fog, we are utterly present in its unpredictable and relentless horror. While most Holocaust films struggle between their representation of order and chaos, often deciding to switch between the two when necessary, Son of Saul finds the ideal balance, showing these small shards of order within the chaos. The most fascinating idea of its premise is to show the prisoners appointed with the tasks of guiding victims into the gas chambers, organising their belongings and then cleaning up after them. It's a well oiled and melancholic cog, while we know every hard effort to scrub and pull is in vain as their eventual death is only postponed and not evaded. Saul, played by first-timer and established poet Geza Rohrig, is one of those Sonderkommando prisoners forced to work towards the Final Solution. Our narrative follows him for only two days, but that's all we need to know to get a gruelling snapshot of his minute-to-minute struggles. When a boy nearly survives the gas but is pronounced dead shortly after, Saul recognises him – at least on some level, as it's never clear if the boy is his kin or not, but it is apparent he never took care of his own when he had the chance – and takes him as his son. To himself, he insists on giving his son a clandestine burial which must be officiated by a rabbi. Salvaging the body, locating a rabbi and performing even a small burial is near impossible despite them being in essentially a mass graveyard. Meanwhile, his peers are plotting an escape along with destroying the crematorium and will require Saul's help. However, he cannot assist both futile missions simultaneously. The film has an incredibly unique approach to the concentration camps. Shot on a tightly framed 35mm hand-held camera, the photography is almost always focused on Saul, leaving the atrocities offscreen or out of focus, but often vividly audible. If there is any complaint, it's that the editing suffers from its long-take construction, but the sound design is an absolute masterclass. Saul's face remains stoic but Rohrig soaks it all in, leaving his mournful expression to interpretation. While he's apparently numb, he's always fully invested in the moment. No scene is quite as hard-hitting as when we watch Saul listen to the screams of people dying in the chambers while he waits outside their doors. It's his one break from being forced to work, and he'll immediately have to remove bodies when it's finished. The way the film builds these routines are very intimate and exhausting and despite being a fictionalised story, it feels very real. Those rituals of removals and cleaning are contrasted with the Jewish rituals that guide their faith, and especially Saul's burial plan. But beyond the intense yet ambiguous horrors that show the cruellest side of humanity there's ever been in the modern world – despite us never getting close to a Nazi beside brief encounters – the film finds its emotional core in small gestures of compassion. Nobody is required to help Saul, especially in knowing the dangers involved, but there's an unspoken bond between every prisoner to help one another regardless. When he finds the rabbi who agrees to perform the service, it's not powerful because they've been stripped down and Nazis are murdering new arrivals around them – nothing compares to the experience of this scene – it's powerful because the rabbi says yes in spite of that. If they can redeem one shred of morality, it is a small victory and triumph of faith. Saul never lets go of that idea, even when he risks sabotaging the escape mission inadvertently. His mission to bury his son becomes increasingly arbitrary, but never without redemptive merit on a grand scale. This is an astounding debut film for Laszlo Nemes on every level. Even a seasoned visionary director would struggle in such a precise execution. Having worked for the excellent Hungarian director Bela Tarr, his influence is clearly felt here. Tarr also uses long shots and utilises impassive protagonists but Nemes' work is much more dense, engaging, and arguably accessible in its own way but mostly for the immediate empathy the situation earns. While it matches Tarr's poetry, it's a lot more theatrically dramatic. Every one of the supporting cast is on a razor's edge though they never outshine the constantly pushed, pulled, and shoved Rohrig. He need not step in front of the camera again after this soon to be iconic accomplishment. The film's power is immobilising and thoroughly unforgiving, but with good reason. Son of Saul, with its immaculate production, attention to detail, and own noble mission, is not only one of the best of the year but one of the best of the decade. Despite its small scope, it dwarfs every other film on offer this year. 9/10 Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com/)

Reviewed by Clayton Davis ([email protected]) 5th October, 2015

The Gifts of László Nemes and Géza Röhrig

We simply don't deserve Laszlo Nemes, the first-time writer/director of Hungary's submission for the Oscar's Foreign Language category, "Son of Saul." Nemes vacuums everything we think we know about filmmaking and the Holocaust, and gives it a raw, intense, and fresh outlook that we haven't seen since Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," perhaps even Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Not to mention, he is thoroughly aided and indebted to the stunning and remarkable talent of Geza Rohrig, in his feature debut. The two simply dance circles around other films and performances seen in this year, with an authentic and genuine approach to art, that we just don't get to experience too often. I'm in awe. "Son of Saul" tells the story of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners isolated from the camp and forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large- scale extermination. In October 1944, Saul discovers the corpse of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkomando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task. Its direction like Nemes that should make the world very optimistic about the future of cinema. If we have filmmakers like him, getting in the trenches of history and the human spirit, and beckoning its awakening into our souls, we should be so lucky to have him display the beauty and evil of the world in such a provocative and engaging manner. His choices in which to shoot the film, and portray one of the most heinous acts in the history of our existence is just downright scintillating. "Son of Saul" plays as if we're watching a disturbing, noxious, and depraved home movie about a time in which we never want to see. From a near first-person perspective, we enter the revolting world of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He uses out of focus camera work, to not bath in the bloodshed, but wallow in the psyche of a man, that is desperate for purpose. It's the single best direction of the year. I'd go so far to say this could be the single best direction seen this decade. His script, along with co- writer Clara Royer, is so painstakingly simple but echoes decades of oppression in its short, respectful run time. Don't call him a "poet by profession" because newcomer Geza Rohrig doesn't believe in the word profession. There's only artists. Geza Rohrig is an artist, of which I haven't seen in some time. With little words, he says countless and devastating things about what he's feeling and what we know about ourselves. He doesn't use cheap tricks to engage the audiences like "really intense face" or "really scared moving." Rohrig displays the numb, almost disengaged weight of the world in every physical and vocal movement he chooses to exhibit. It's a flawless, masterful performance that we need more of in this cinematic world. Cinematographer Matyas Erdely is your next great craftsman to watch, even though making his mark on films like "The Quiet Ones" and "Miss Bala." He frames close-ups that Danny Cohen himself, would hope to achieve in his next collaboration with Tom Hooper. He stays with a person, a scene, a moment, so intelligently, and so vibrantly, he places each one of us in the rooms, full of fear, and full of hopelessness. The subtle yet effective music by Laszlo Melis is sonorous but the Sound team is what really needs their praise. Tamas Devenyi (Production Soundmixer), Tamas Szekely (Sound Editor), and Tamas Zanyi (Sound Designer) create monstrous and dynamic effects that essentially become its own focal point of the story. We are listening intently, desperately, and just fearful at every nick, boom, and cry we come in contact with. It's something everyone should and will notice and applaud. "Son of Saul" sneaks up on you. It's too important and critical to our cinematic landscape to overlooked or forgotten. I can't imagine a more dour and sullen experience this year that fills my heart with this much adoration. It stands toe-to-toe with most Holocaust films created in and before my lifetime. It may be the definitive one this millennium.

Reviewed by chimie-340-361128 9th June, 2015

This is not a Holocaust movie

After the news about the movie's success in Cannes, there was a lot of conversation about whether we need "yet another" movie about the Holocaust. Still, as I watched the movie, I have realized that the main subject of it is not the Holocaust itself, but rather the human and his choices between morality and necessities, between family and strangers, between dead and alive. And, this is that makes this movie a perfect 10 for me: the painfully precise reconstruction of the mass murder and the almost PoV-esque, brutally relivable presentation of Auschwitz's everyday is just the beginning, just the setting. Still, I cannot overemphasize it that the reconstruction feels so realistic thanks to the filming style (the viewer remains so close to Saul, the protagonist, that almost smells him), the acting (that is, basically showing empty shells of seemingly living people in most of the movie) and the details (people using myriad of languages, mainly Yiddish to communicate, for example). So, if Holocaust is just the setting, what is it really about then? It reminded me of a Greek drama with a protagonist, who has big choices with tragic consequences, with very clear dilemmas. With a big difference that you cannot hope of a divine intervention at the end – although as a viewer, I can understand if somebody hopes that some kind of happy ending will close the movie, after all, some kind of (even unreal) hope makes the members of the Sonderkommando alive as well. If you see a "Holocaust movie", you end up wondering about how this could happen (and why is it happening again and again). In Saul's Son, you will be haunted by the pictures of the killings and by the partly banal practicalities related of it, but the main question will be: what would have YOU done, not as a Jew, but as someone who is on the blurry borderline between victims and collaborators, as a parent, as a comrade… as a HUMAN? … and that makes it way more than "just" a (quite revolutionary) Holocaust movie for me. Recommended for anyone who feels like 110 minutes of pain (it is, really, painful to watch) is worth to have an experience of visiting some dark edges of our humanity.

Reviewed by Zoli Zzz 29th May, 2015

Very well-researched movie

I do not understand how the previous commentators were able to add their opinion, since I saw the very first screening of the movie outside Cannes in the Muvesz arts cinema of Budapest tonight, on May 29, 2015. The movie was followed by a discussion and Q&A session with the artists. Director Nemes aimed to create a movie that is deprived of the post-war artifacts present in most Holocaust movies. For this goal, he and his staff made substantial historical research to make the smallest details truthful. The shooting took place from less than $2 million, in a very short period (28 days). French, Israeli and German investors did not give money for the movie for fear of a loss. As the director mentioned, a movie of this length is spliced together form 300 to 700 cuts these days. Theirs required only 80. You are in the camp, you are Saul Auslander. There is utter confusion, you do not know what awaits you in the next second. This is a reality movie with no happy ending that shakes you.