Son of Saul (2015)

Opinion & writing by Tony Frame

Son of Saul follows a Jewish prisoner in a World War two concentration camp who is a member of the Sonderkommandos – a unit who are forced to clean up the gas chambers and remove the dead, as part of their daily routine in eradicating all evidence of the Nazi’s Final Solution.

The film is an up-close and personal portrait of one man’s inner turmoil as he tries to arrange a burial for a young boy (a victim of the gas chambers) whilst dealing with the horrors of his daily life and survival.

Images courtesy of IMDB

Shot very much like a documentary, the camera never tries anything fancy or majestic; it stays with the main character throughout almost the entirety of the picture, which adds to the intensity of the movie and its setting.

In a way it almost feels like a continuous shot at times as we follow Saul through different areas of the concentration camp, which has a pressure-cooker feeling that anything could happen at any given moment.

The performances from everyone involved are unflinching and grimly real, there are no great poignant speeches that one would expect to find in an English speaking film – everything feels authentic and matter-of-fact to such a degree that some viewers may find it upsetting to watch because of its realism.

It’s not a film I would personally watch again; I found it slightly claustrophobic from the way it was shot and felt that one viewing was enough to experience it.

I also found the aspect ratio (4:3) slightly off-putting. I know it’s intention was probably to replicate the format of something shot from that era — and maybe it adds to the close-proximity shooting style — but I personally find it irritating when the whole screen isn’t filled.

Images courtesy of IMDB

That aside, Son of Saul is a fascinating debut from director László Nemes. It’s a film cinephiles should watch at least once. It’s also a testament to European cinema being leaders in original film-making when it comes to tackling war films in a unique way, devoid of cliches and jingoism.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Director: László Nemes (as Nemes László)

Writers: László Nemes (as Nemes László), Clara Royer

Stars: Géza RöhrigLevente MolnárUrs Rechn | See full cast & crew » 

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