Movie Review: Son of Saul

A film from Hungary, "Son of Saul", directed by László Nemes.
A film from Hungary, “Son of Saul”, directed by László Nemes. Photo Courtesy: Mozinet

By Stephen Elliott

The essential objective for Hungarian Saul Ausländer is common among the Judaism religion, finding a rabbi to give a proper burial for his son. However, the seemingly simple task occurs inside the walls of a Nazi death camp.

“Son of Saul” is the debut film for 38-year-old director László Nemes. The Hungarian film takes place in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War II in 1944. It closely follows Saul Ausländer (played by Géza Röhrig) a Sonderkommando, which are Nazi chosen workers responsible for cleaning and escorting other Jewish prisoners chambers where Nazi’s put them to death. For their service they live, for the moment, when the Nazi commanders no longer need them. This knowledge induces the Sonderkommandos, mainly headed by Abraham acted by Levente Molnár, to plot a rebellion against the Nazi camp leaders. The conflict combines with Saul as he tries to stay on course to finding a rabbi and keeping that his one priority.

Cinematography Narrows the Focus
Director Nemes keeps the focus on the main character. The camera (cinematography Mátyás Erdély) format is tight on Saul with a nearly square frame giving the feel to an older era. In the background you hear and see the ruthlessness of a Nazi death camp but it never pans to it staying right at the hip of Saul. Erdély puts you into the camp as if you are just off the footsteps of Saul, seeing his facial expressions and restless eyes. These elements and Röhrig’s precise acting seems to transform this fictional film into a profile documentary.

Emotionally Filled Every Minute
The film spans nearly two hours (107 minutes) and it’s filled with intense moments, emotion, conflict and problem solving. The story itself covers just days and the entire dialogue is subtitled. The narrow view hints that you’ll know everything about the main character, but he stays quiet knowing the inevitable outcome and by the end I wanted to know more about Saul. The film won for best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes and is nominated for the same category at the Academy Awards. Check out the trailer below.