MOVIE REVIEW: Son of Saul

Set in a concentration camp in the midst of the attempted genocide of the Jewish race during World War 2, Son of Saul tells a very singular emotional tale of one of the secret keepers that worked in the machinery of murder that the Nazi’s employed.  These Secret Keepers were Jewish men who knew what was happening and who assisted the Nazi’s in the mass murder.  They would herd the men, women, and children into the chambers and help them undress, then into the ‘shower’ rooms to meet their destruction.  Afterwards the Secret Keepers would clean the room of the human remains or ‘Pieces’ as the Germans would call them, disinfect, and then burn the bodies and dispose of the ashes.  These men had slightly better working conditions than the rest of the camp but would be executed after about 4 months, to keep their secrets.  Saul is one of these men, and he works emotionless and like a machine, until he spots a young boy who somehow managed to survive the gas chamber.

A German Doctor examines the boy and then suffocates him, Saul can’t take his eyes off the young boy, and pushes through to take the boy to the autopsy room.  He persuades a Jewish Doctor to not cut him open and give him a chance to bury the child with a Rabbi.  It becomes clear that this is the Son of Saul.

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Saul struggles but is relentless in trying to get the child buried, using friendships and bribery, while his fellow prisoners are trying to capture the horrors of the holocaust and mount an escape from the camp.  The ending of the film will leave you in an emotional state yourself and questioning everything that you’ve just watched.

This is an amazingly emotional film, straight from the start your drawn in to the life of the prisoner at Auschwitz, these Secret Keepers, the film makes you feel as though you are these Jewish men helping the Nazi’s kill other Jewish people.  The square framing of the film means you are watching everything that Saul is watching, or watching Saul in a very deep personal way.  It’s an amazing technique and it means that you don’t see that much, but you get glimpses of the horrors of what happened in Auschwitz, just over the shoulder.  Son of Saul isn’t about the political system or the evil of the Nazi’s, although these are clearly there, but it’s a very singular story.  Saul works hard but you can tell that the life that he’s living has taken its toll on him, as it would to anyone.  Geza Rohrig plays Saul, who works hard and obeys the rules, and Rohrig is excellent in this role.  You believe that this man has seen the evil and has almost become numb to it.

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The one thing that I can say against this film is that I wouldn’t want to sit through it again.  It’s a hard watch and will leave you feeling a sense of loss at the end of the film that usually only comes with a personal loss.  It’s great that a film stirs such emotion, too many films in recent years you leave the cinema without feeling anything, so that’s not the problem.  The problem is that the feelings you leave with are so strong and so down that you just need to go home and watch something cheerful, and then you feel bad again because watching the biggest evil act in the last 100 years you shouldn’t want to feel cheerful.  I would tell everyone to go see this it’s touching, beautifully acted by all, and shot in a way that brings you straight into the story.  Son of Saul is an amazing film, showing the realities that were the concentration and death camps, and I can’t urge young people studying World War 2 strongly enough to go see this, just know that I’ve done it, and won’t be going again.  Don’t take that as any slight against the film, I’ve seen it, I really liked and enjoyed the performances and everything else, I just don’t want to feel like that twice.

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

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