The hungarian war drama Son of Saul is a powerful story of the day and a half in the life of Saul, a hungarian member of the Sonderkommando.
Let’s start this of with some history. The Sonderkommando was a work force made up from nazi death camp prisoners, mostly consisting of jews. The Sonderkommando was tasked with horrific assignments to clean up any evidence of the Holocaust ever taking place.
I can’t honestly say I have that much knowledge of Hungarian cinema, but I found Son of Saul for cheap at the DVD Store and I remembered it got The Academy Award for best Foreign Language film so I decided to check it out, and we have a lot to talk about.
So. Saul does his duty in the Sonderkommando with almost pride, which I guess is a way to become immune to all the horrific things you have to see while doing that, but one day he discovers the corpse of a boy he claims to be his son, and the quest to give him a proper jewish burial in the middle of a concentration camp begins.
The movie is directed by Laszlo Nemes, and if that name does not sound familiar it is not due to the lack of knowledge in Hungarian cinema, a short search on IMDB revealed to me that the man has never directed a feature film before that. Talk about one hell of a debut. His directing is truly spectacular and he really destroys any stereotype we think about Holocaust and movie making. Son of Saul is raw, intense and unique outlook on a pretty washed up genre called Warfilm. Nemes displays the psyche of a desperate man with out of focus camera, and manages to display evil and beauty in a way that will just leave you glued to your seat for the hour and forty-five minutes this film is. There are some beauty in Son of Saul. He is all alone in Auschwitz trying to bury his son without being shot by nazis, and people don’t have to help him with the burial, but some of them do. and he manages to show the beauty of human relationships.
I Have a thing for cinematography, and we really should address Matyas Erdely, he frames the close up of Sauls face artistically and the way he has used a 40mm lens and shooting it on 35 mm film makes it quite the interesting thing to watch. Any lover of film will find a detail or three here and there every time you see it. Erdely focuses on creating a portrait like image of Saul all throughout the movie and creates this narrow framing I really can’t think of anyone else being capable of doing.
The composer. Laszlo Melis said in an interview that the soundtrack of Son of Saul is so subtle you won’t know you have heard it, and I honestly didn’t until the end credits, but the one who really should be praised here are the sound effects. The use of wind and dialouge is so well done that you won’t miss the background music at all.
Now, we should probably talk about Geza Rohrig, the man is usually a famous Hungarian Poet, and he has never acted in anything other than this movie, and what does he do? He nails the part perfectly. He isn’t just an actor in this, he is an artist. He rarely speaks throughout the film and manages to deliver a flawless masterful character in Saul that is unlike anything you have ever seen before. He displays the main character as a numb depressive man trying to stay alive in Auschwitz for as long as he can, and it is so great.
Son of Saul may be one of the best movies made in the 21st century, and the fact that it is the feature film debut of Nemes and the acting debut of Rohrig really makes it even more fascinating. It is new, original and very unique. It is truly filmatic art and it sneaks up on you in a way few movies have ever done. This is one of the best war films to be made to date.