Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Son of Saul is finally here. I first heard about the film during last year's Cannes Film Festival, when I came across this five-star review on the Guardian website.
The plot is beyond horrific and made me think 'that will be a film for the guts': Saul is a sonderkommando in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, meaning his job is to get his fellow prisoners ready for the gas chamber (without panicking them - "there will be coffee after!", someone yells, "and we need carpenters!"), their bodies out of the chamber and to the crematorium, and finally their ashes dumped in a nearby pond. A boy barely survives the gas chamber, only to die minutes later: Saul recognises him as his son and decides to give him, against good reason and in the face of the surrounding hell, a proper Jewish burial. This leads to an attempt to hide the body, find a rabbi etc.
A sub-plot sees his fellow sonderkommandos and some kappos (both groups received better treatment) attempting to photograph the horror and get the photographs out of the camp, as well as planning an uprising.
So, the story itself is intense. Director Lazlo Nemes gives it even more power by always focusing his camera on Saul. We face him head on as he watches new victims arrive, we follow him closely as he walks across the changing room emptying the pockets of the clothes left behind by the people we can hear screaming and banging in the gas chamber next door. His face is rather impassible. We are deep inside horror.