Son of Saul, 2015.
Directed by László Nemes.
Starring Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn and Jerzy Walczak.
Surrounded by the horror of living in Auschwitz, Saul, a Sonderkommando, attempts to bury the body of a boy who he claims as his son.
Based on the same source material as Tim Blake Nelson’s film The Grey Zone, Son of Saul is a more extensive re-imagining of Dr. Miklós Nyiszli’s book, Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account. 15 years after the release of The Grey Zone, writer and director László Nemes’ film Son of Saul is both original and unique, offering something new to the genre of holocaust films that renders the subject more authentic than theatrical.
Both films share almost identical story lines with there being only one defining difference. While Nelson’s characters in The Grey Zone are obsessed with saving the life of a young girl who survived her time in the gas chambers, Nemes’ film focuses solely on one characters personal obsession with granting the correct religious burial rights to a young boy, who after surviving the gas chambers is murdered by an SS solider. While one film uses the survival of a character as the catalyst for insurrection, and as a motive for redemption for the acts the Sonderkommando were illicit in, the other examines how participating in any insurrection would be an attempt to save already dead men. Nemes’ small change makes a dramatic difference, altering the framework of the film by remaining more authentic and personal, which is only further emphasised through the cinematography. Son of Saul illustrates the complexity of moral responsibility by questioning the motives and intentions of the Sonderkommando who lead the insurrection at Auschwitz. Saul’s reasoning for burying the child he claims as his own is left purposely vague; however, it is eluded to that he chooses to do so not for any redemptive purpose. Instead, it is suggested that because he also sees himself as dead, by burying the boy he is in some way granting him what he believes he wasn’t granted himself.
Besides the storyline, the way in which Son of Saul was filmed also stands in stark contrast to Nelson’s film. The camera’s movement and framing is used to emphasise Saul’s subjective experience and beliefs, which is further made obvious through his interaction with others within the camp. Filmed using 35mm film, the effect that is created is a very shallow field of depth that allows the viewer to only see over the shoulder and through the eyes of Saul. In witnessing everything through Nemes’ protagonist, the film has a subtle way of unconsciously aligning the viewer’s own emotions with Saul’s.
The fluidity of the camera’s movement is exact and almost flawlessly choreographed. It has the effect of providing a continuous, uninterrupted story that in no way feels segmented. In the same way Saul has little control over what he sees and does, so do we as the viewer enter into the same powerlessness. We are dragged and forced to witness the atrocities committed within the camp, and are shown just enough to ground the film in reality without making a spectacle of it for emotional gain. From one moment to the next the viewer has very little idea where Saul will be taken or transported next. Nemes’ focuses on the expressions of Saul’s character and how he negotiates with living with what he’s seen, making what experiences we see on-screen invasive and personal. There are many territories that are not explored because the viewer is limited to only viewing the space Saul inhabits, however, this is wonderfully negotiated through Nemes’ use of sound. The audio of the film is overwhelming in every sense of the word, providing an image of the scale of Auschwitz and what happens in the rooms the camera prevents us from entering into.
The subject of the holocaust has been explored extensively in cinema causing many to question whether the genre is over-saturated. In 2009 at the release of Quentin Tarantino’s sixth film, Inglorious Bastards, there were numerous articles published surrounding whether the genre of holocaust films was reaching a climax with there being ten films related to the genre that year. Ultimately, even though the story of Son of Saul has already been told, the way in which it was redesigned cinematically allows the viewer a more authentic insight into the mechanics of a concentration camp and what identities are adopted and lost in the microcosm of a mechanised murder camp.
László Nemes’ film Son of Saul battles all attempts at making the subject of the holocaust a spectacle. Nemes displays the horrors within Auschwitz honestly and realistically without manipulating his audience by overwhelming viewers with images designed to play on the emotions of an audience. Instead Son of Saul displays just enough for the viewer to grasp the gravity of what life was like within Auschwitz and what was needed from those who tried to live through it. The effect is tremendously genuine and in no way appropriates the acts committed at Auschwitz for Hollywood theatrics used to captivate an audience for longer than two hours.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
. url=”.” . width=”100%” height=”150″ iframe=”true” /]