The film follows the experiences of Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian Sonderkommando in Auschwitz during World War II. These were the Jewish inmates forced under threat of death to dispose of the corpses of their compatriots in monstrous industrial ovens. They were normally executed after three months as their intimate knowledge of the camps’ activities made them “bearers of secrets”.
Amongst the piles of bodies he finds one in particular: a young boy he claims is his son. Determined to save him from the desecration of an autopsy and unceremonious disposal, Saul becomes fixated on finding a rabbi to give him a proper burial.
This journey forces us to confront the true horror of one of the most heinous humanitarian crimes in recent history. Like some renaissance vision of hell, infernos screech and roar, punctuated by stomach twisting screams of abject terror as they consume the thousands who’ve shuffled naked, cowed and helpless to their doom.
This is bold and intelligent filmmaking; all the more impressive when you consider this is director László Nemes first feature film, and lead actor Géza Röhrig’s first performance in front of the camera since 1990. The Hungarian actor initially came in to audition for a supporting role, but impressed so much he was given the lead role.
This would be a tall order for any actor; the camera clings to Saul claustrophobically for almost the whole 107 minute running time, restricting our experience to his narrow field of vision – it’s a muted but powerful performance. Because of this, the reenactment of such tragic events never becomes voyeuristic or gratuitous – we only see glimpses of the true horror, leaving our minds to fill in the blanks.
What’s truly distressing is the slick and indifferent mechanics of genocide; millions processed like cattle. Co-written by Nemes and Clara Royer, the script is sparse and we only catch snatches of clandestine conversation about plans for a revolt.
As harrowing and unforgiving as any film about the Holocaust should be, Son of Saul is an undoubtedly challenging experience – but it is one that deserves to be seen.
Click here to book a Q&A screening with director László Nemes at Curzon Soho on April 12 at 6:15
|What||Son of Saul film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
29 Apr 16 – 31 May 16, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to visit the film's IMDB page|