REVIEW: Son of Saul

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Review by Dustin Heller

Son of Saul is the new Hungarian film centered around the Holocaust from director László Nemes.  This is Nemes’ feature film debut and the fact that it was included (not to mention won the Grand Prix) in the main competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival speaks volumes about the quality of the film and the filmmaker.

Not only did Son of Saul win the Grand Prix at Cannes, but it also took home the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and is the front runner to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  The cast, led by Géza Röhrig as Saul, is made up of actors that Nemes insisted spoke their characters’ own languages.  Son of Saul is Rated R for disturbing violent content, and some graphic nudity.

The film is set in an Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, where Saul, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, works in the crematorium burning the dead.  One day, he comes across the body of a young boy that he claims is his son and he makes it his mission to find a rabbi and give the boy a proper burial instead of being burned with the rest of the bodies.

As the other members of his Sonderkommando find out about the plans for their extermination, they devise a plan to revolt and destroy the crematorium.  Saul is caught in the middle of the madness, but his priority and loyalty must remain to the boy.

Son of Saul is a hauntingly beautiful film that is very difficult to watch.  It is a fresh and unique take on the horrors of the Holocaust that is done with just the right amount of grit and beauty.  Shot from the perspective of the protagonist Saul, the film does an amazing job of placing the viewer right in the midst of the devastation surrounding him.  This is achieved with amazing close-up camera work and some engrossing points of view, particularly the shots from behind which follow Saul from place to place.

This is about as well of a crafted film as I’ve seen in some time and although it seems slow in parts, my eyes were glued to the screen throughout its entirety.  Although a great film indeed, it is also a very artsy film and probably not for everyone.  The use of subtitles is a distraction for some, but I wouldn’t let that get in the way of missing out on a truly exceptional film.

Grade:  A-

Son of Saul opens in Indianapolis on Friday, February 12

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