Son of Saul Review

Son of Saul (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

Director: László Nemes (as Nemes László) 
Writers: László Nemes (as Nemes László), Clara Royer 
Stars: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn 

Director László Nemes’ Son of Saul takes the Holocaust very seriously. While a lot of Holocaust movies struggle between their representation. Showing these small details of order within the chaos, Son of Saul finds the perfect balance.

Son of Saul tells the story of a Hungarian group of Jewish prisoners named the “Sonderkommando” who are forced to assist the Nazis in the large scale extermination.

The premise of this movie is to show the prisoners appointed with the tasks of guiding victims into the gas chambers, organising their clothing and belongings and then cleaning up after them. No scene is quite as hard-hitting as when we watch Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) listens to the screams of people dying in the chambers while he waits outside their doors

In October 1944, Saul who is part of the Sonderkommando discovers the dead body of a young boy who nearly survived the gas but is pronounced dead shortly afterwards, Saul takes for his “son”.

As the group plan a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task of burying the young boy.

Our narrative follows him for only a couple of days, but that’s all we need to know to get a gruelling snapshot of his minute-to-minute struggles in the concentration camps.

The movie has an fascinating approach with most shots being tight, close up and clearly on a hand-held camera, the style is mostly focused on the main character, leaving the horrific events out of focus, distorted or offscreen, but the audible is clear as day.

It’s also worth mentioning Mátyás Erdély won the American Society of Cinematographers for Son of Saul and after watching this you can see why.

Géza Röhrig is brilliant at times as the reckless Saul Ausländer who knew he was on borrowed time. Giving the boy a burial was his attempt to salvage some dignity from the horror of his situation. Röhrig’s convincing portrayal and expressiveness of a desperate man in a desperate situation cannot be ignored or overseen.

I believe Röhrig understood the character and nails it.

I can see why Son of Saul won Best Foreign Language Film of the Year 2016 at the Oscars and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture for a Foreign Language in the same year. Don’t expect the movie to be in the style of Schindler’s List or any other film based on the Holocaust. This is up close and personal with the struggles of survival, with no hope, just trying to keep it together in one of the most horrific times in history.

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