Directed by: László Nemes
Starring: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn
Run Time: 107 mins
4.5 out of 5
By Shari K. Green
“Son of Saul” is a moving yet frustrating and very depressing film that will have you feeling exasperated and quite ill… but you have to see it. It covers the loss of almost an entire people and their dignity during a horrific time in the history of the human race. It’s almost unfathomable that people were even capable of the atrocities that were performed at Auschwitz and other camps that held the prisoners the Nazis swept in and shoved in them; prisoners they considered “it, “things”, “waste” and “pieces”.
What brings us to hate at this level?
Saul is played by actor Géza Röhrig, who brings much of the character to you with only his eyes, said of playing Saul, “I am not [the character] Saul. But I know that as a member of the Sonderkommando, he’s as much a victim as anyone else, if not more so. He’s been dehumanized by his circumstances, as has everyone else there. He doesn’t know all of what is going on; he’s just struggling to survive.”
One can only imagine what people would have had to endure during Hitler’s power in 1944 but fortunately, if you can look at it that way, we can watch this film and see one man’s portrayal bring the horror to us quite specifically and then the imagining isn’t quite so hard.
Saul seeks warmth in this unlikely of places and once he finds something that shows him there can be love beyond this cruelty, he is driven to stay alive to give it back to him. That him is a boy who’s body is about to be cremated along with all of the other nameless people Saul prepares for the ovens. What’s excellent about this film is how Saul is the only thing truly in focus during almost the entire film. Better to fixate on something hopeful rather than dare let the audience hone in on what is going on around him. I found this to be a fascinating and effective way to take the audience deep into what was found going on in these camps yet also stay on task.
Saul’s days are made up of dragging bodies to the fire, shoveling their ashes into the lake and also peddling the “shiny” things, treasure, found in pockets of the dead before the Germans found them. It’s a ghastly life but still Saul lives and childless, he vows to give the boy a proper burial. Nothing good will ever come from his time in the place, but since he lives, he vows to bring the boy peace and he bargains, lies and steals to have the chance to do something good before he too meets the flames.
Röhrig takes you through this journey never dropping the determined look on his face. He keeps you riveted as to whether or not Saul will be granted his wish of freedom or at least be given the chance to be the good person he once was.
“Son of Saul” feels long sometimes and there will be moments of displeasure on your part for having to bear it all, but for the vision with which director László Nemes decided to present the film, you have to feel it, see it… live it a little.
His purpose is that in order for you to fully experience and appreciate,truly absorb what the victims of this cruel war were exposed to, it had to be. It helps him say that this really happened; this was their life and luckily there were very brave souls who got the word out and made the world aware of the despicable truth of what they were going through. This is an ode to them.