Rated: R for disturbing violent content, and some graphic nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 18, 2015 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
Its narrative may not be that original or very nourished when it comes to the Auschwitz' horrors, but Son of Saul (multi-lingual and fully subtitled) has a remarkably disturbing and immersive metaphysical way of looking at "it" and picking up the "pieces" around an actual event that occurred on October 7, 1944.
Another Holocaust picture which may not be as consummately and sweepingly enveloping as Schindler's List or in a more magnum opus form of Shoah, but it gets into the ghastly unpleasant grey zone with claustrophobic visceral verisimilitude. Others may recall pics like the 1997 word-of-mouth tragicomedy arthouse hit Life Is Beautiful which was directed by and starred a buoyant Roberto Benigni about making a game out of an unflinching horror.
Director Laszlo Nemes, Hungarian bred, lets us into a special unit known as the Sonderkommando at the death camp, specifically through Geza Rohrig's Saul (donning a red cross on his back) who gets less souped-up food than the less fortunate prisoners. So he can clear up clothes of those off to the gas chambers and later the crematorium to discard the ashes in the water.
The latter part of WW II is the setting in a much slimmed, squarish aspect-ratio to insinuate the unthinkable and edginess felt in a man trying to keep up with an assembly-line slaughter.
A plot primer is Saul observing a rare survivor of the gas chamber perceived to be his son (through an affair and against peer cynicism) sent by a guard to have the medical examiner prepare an autopsy to explain this anomaly. Saul wants a proper Jewish burial for the boy and seeks out a rabbi putting his neck on the line with an incipient prisoner revolt from some stashed gunpowder.
The debut filmmaking and lead performance (Rohrig is Budapest writer with his first book about to be published) reveals a staggering desperation and determination of a soul. The cinematography and sound design expertly convey the fear, disarray and panic that enhances the exemplary first-time efforts of Nemes and an instinctive Rohrig arousing moral angst with understated power. Son of Saul is a most deserving qualifier of Best Foreign-Language Film accolades, Hungary's submission for the 88th Academy Awards.
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