In the hell of the Holocaust, Saul Ausländer is working as a member of the Sonderkommando. Forced to burn the bodies of other prisoners following their hideous murders in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Saul sees a dead boy that he believes to be his son. He becomes instantly determined to save the boy’s body from the furnaces and sets out in search of a Rabbi to lead a spiritual and humane burial. Meanwhile there are rumours of an uprising amongst the prisoners and mysterious packages are passed between men. Their insidious job roles supposedly protect members of the Sonderkommando from the same fate faced by their own people but when soldiers start to ask for names of men who are no longer needed, time is suddenly of the essence for those attempting to rebel. Son of Saul is a startling tale of determination and hope in the face of the most evil of all evils. It questions what makes us human and what one can salvage when all faith and hope is shattered. It’s a film about utter loneliness and the relentlessness of one man obsessed with bringing peace to the dead. László Nemes’ directorial début is the Palme d’Or winner that got away at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s a harrowing tale told in the most beautiful way. It will leave you mesmerised and disturbed by the horrific capabilities of man.
Nemes uses camera angles in an exceptional way. Choosing to remain close up on Saul’s face for the majority of the film, we as an audience do not get to see the details of the horrors unfolding. We get brief glimpses into Saul’s broken world. Being left to imagine the reality he faces. We follow Saul closely as he wanders around the camp in search of a holy man to perform the prayers he requires for an adequate burial. Walking so closely with Saul, we witness every vile process of the extermination production line from gathering clothes and belongings to the disposing of the ash remains. It is of course the stages in between which are the most unbearable and difficult to start to comprehend. We witness men melting down the wedding rings of their own people and, along with the suffering of the murdered, we are exposed to the torture experienced by those forced to complete the exterminations; instructed to betray their heritage and themselves. Actor Géza Röhrig makes his cinematic début as Saul, a staggering feat on behalf of both actor and director. Son of Saul is an achievement on so many levels. It is a bold take on Holocaust cinema, it is a phenomenal début from both cast and crew and it’s a film brimming with unanswered questions which may bother some but enthralled me. Son of Saul is cinema at both its most mortifying and triumphant.
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