Son of Saul (2015)

  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller
  • Director: László Nemes
  • Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn


Two days in the life of Saul Auslander, Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando at one of the Auschwitz Crematoriums who, to bury the corpse of a boy he takes for his son, tries to carry out his impossible deed: salvage the body and find a rabbi to bury it. While the Sonderkommando is to be liquidated at any moment, Saul turns away of the living and their plans of rebellion to save the remains of a son he never took care of when he was still alive.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)


    IN BRIEF: Despite its powerful images, the film’s threadbare story feels more of a plot device than it need be.
    GRADE: B

    SYNOPSIS: A concentration camp prisoner goes on a personal quest to find a rabbi among the other prisoners who can give a dead child a proper Jewish funeral.

    JIM’S REVIEW: 2015’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film winner, Hungary’s Son of Saul, finally has its nation-wide theatrical distribution release and arrives to our local cinemas nearly four months after debuting in New York and Los Angeles to meet Academy Award deadlines. (I will be including this film in my 2016 film list.)

    Géza Röhrig plays Saul, an Auschwitz survivor and “Sonderkommando’’ (bearer of secrets), part of a select crew of prisoners whose daily routine includes cleaning the concentration camp’s showers and efficiently disposing of the bodies of Jewish victims.

    First-time director László Nemes conveys strong images of the atrocities. He usually shows the violent acts in distant background shots, making these cruel and senseless acts more horrific and focusing on Saul himself and his numbing reaction to the slaughter surrounding him. It is an auspicious debut of a talent to watch.

    The film is brutal and most effective in its handling of the daily torture and murder that befell the Auschwitz Jewish population. Its matter-of-fact telling and use of sound design and mixing heightens the tension. There is no music score to manipulate our emotions, creating an all too real experience.

    But the film’s screenplay, also by its director and Clara Royer, follows a rather thin storyline that, while heart-breaking, fails to make sense. If Saul’s sole mission is to give a dead child a proper Jewish funeral, a human and heroic action, his incessant dedication endangers everyone around him, not to mention his ability to illogically travel throughout the camp without notice or objection. This gives our protagonist the appearance of being a foolhardy and dangerous loner, unable to show any degree of emotion or concern about anyone or anything else. This may be the trait the director wants in his character, yet it makes Saul unsympathetic and his motives and actions remain an enigma. Mr. Röhrig is good in his role, although other characters are sketchy and stereotypes of the genre (the angry rebel, the evil Nazi, the brutish bully, etc.) in need of more delineation.

    Still, Son of Saul skillfully depicts the Holocaust with disturbing reality and reaches a sad and satisfying conclusion that makes this harrowing journey all the more memorable.

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