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Son of Saul
Son of Saul stands as one of the most extraordinary films ever made about the Holocaust. The fact that it was made by a first time filmmaker makes it one of the most extraordinary film debuts in years.
It almost feels as if Laszlo Nemes’ film is an antidote to all those well meaning but kind of silly movies where a beautiful young girl finds her inner strength by taking on the Nazis. Set in Auschwitz, 1944, the pared down action focuses on Saul, a member of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners whose job it was to assist the Nazis in the extermination process. Nemes takes no easy paths here: one of the first scenes places us, through his remarkable camera lens, in the middle of a group of new imports, being herded into the gas chambers. What we don’t see, we hear. This is, admittedly, very tough to sit through. But the tone shifts from there, when Saul, sifting through the bodies, discovers his young son. The grief stricken father cannot betray his myriad emotions, but he decides, just as his fellow Sonderkommandos are planning a revolt, to prepare a proper Jewish burial for his son.
Geza Rohrig’s almost mute performance as Saul is fascinating. You can barely take your eyes off his haunted and determined face. Saul’s insistence upon a kind of revenge is every bit as much a story of survival as is Leonardo DiCaprio’s in The Revenant. But here, we cannot help but truly feel his pain. And we also, very much, want for him to succeed, even as we all know the odds are almost impossible.
Beautifully shot and admirably lean, this is a film that lets its very important story be the star. Nemes makes us bear witness in a film that is impossible to forget.