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  Son of Saul Hell On EarthBuy this film here.
Year: 2015
Director: László Nemes
Stars: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Jerzy Walczak, Gergö Farkas, Balázs Farkas, Sándor Zsótér, Marcin Czarnik, Levente Orbán, Kamil Dobrowolski, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Attila Fritz, Mihály Kormos, Márton Ágh
Genre: Drama, War
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig) is an inmate of the concentration camp at Auschwitz where a large number of Jews have been executed as part of what has come to be called the Holocaust, a mass extermination of one race of people. Saul never thought of himself as a particularly observant Jew, but his dreadful experiences in this place of death has made him far more aware of his culture and how important it is to hold onto it in the face of the Nazis, whose aim it is to wipe them from the face of the Earth. He has managed to get into the ranks of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners who are spared the gas chambers, for a while at least, to assist with the day to day jobs around the camp...

But one day as he numbly goes about his enforced business, he notices one boy who was among the gassed was still breathing, and though the child is dead shortly afterwards, this unconscious act of defiance on the deceased's part awakens something in Saul, he is determined from then on to give the corpse a proper Jewish burial, rather than leave it to be burned to ashes with the other dead. This part was the fictional element to director László Nemes' recreation of the death camp at Auschwitz, but other than that he strove to render the imagery as authentic as possible, feeling, as did his collaborators on the film, that it deserved to be related in the most realistic fashion as they could muster.

As a result, Son of Saul, or Saul Fia as it was called in its original Hungarian title, garnered awards and acclaim around the world, including the much-sought after Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and became quickly regarded as a benchmark in the depiction of the horrors of war, much like the work that Nemes had been most inspired by, the harrowing Russian effort Come and See. But there were still problems with it that its champions were perhaps reluctant to note, mainly because while a movie about the uprising of the Sonderkommando deserved to be told, the manner in which this went about it was too esoteric for a tale that should have been more accessible to all, and not simply the arthouse crowd.

It could be that what scuppered most attempts to recreate the ghastly circumstances millions of innocent people found themselves in during World War II was that the enormity of the utter lack of compassion of the Nazis was never going to be convincingly portrayed on film; certainly not a fictional film, and even a documentary would struggle to really land those emotional and reasoned blows on the audience. No matter how sincere, and there was no doubt Nemes and his team had their heart in absolutely the right place, it was just too big a subject to be confined to a film that deliberately had its protagonist be the conduit for the audience's experience, the camera rarely leaving his head and even then only to provide a point of view shot that could not achieve what the narrative needed.

It was reminiscent of what Carl Dreyer did with The Passion of Joan of Arc back in the silent days, obsessively holding onto the image of the horrified and desperate lead, yet also conveying how their belief in a higher power could help them through. That the higher power had allowed this to happen in the first place has not made Saul an atheist, it has simply strengthened his resolve to continue his culture and the burial of the boy he believes to be his son is part of that. However, as it is clear from the other characters, Saul never had a son, therefore his noble intentions are the effects of madness on his shattered mind, another reason why he was a troublesome lens through which to see the events of the revolt unfold. With its assuredly monotonous style reflecting the monomania of what passed for the film's hero, we could understand the only way he could get through these days was to keep what his life had become at the periphery, and the glimpses we saw of the workings of the camp were probably enough anyone would want to bear, yet the actual abhorrence of this genocide was a subject narrative film faltered in the face of. There are just some things that went beyond its capability to convey. Subtle music by László Melis.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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