A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: László Nemes
Written By: László Nemes, Clara Royer
Produced By: Gábor Sipos, Gábor Rajna
Starring: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Haunting, horriffic and harrowing, Son Of Saul, the winner of Cannes’ Grand Prix award and Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards delves deep into the darkest catacombs of 1944 Auschwitz, telling the tale of one man’s extraordinary journey of bravery and purpose.
Like many of it’s kind, Son Of Saul showcases the unspeakable horrors of The Holocaust in all their infamy, yet amid the endless and inhumane acts of evil, there seems to emerge a glimmer of humanity and hope. Not only is László Nemes’ feature debut above most in this regard, thematically, visually and emotionally, it’s a triumph like no other that understands both the craft of cinema, the audience experience and the subject matter overall.
There are an endless amount of stories to emerge from the most horrific era in human history, most of which lend themselves incredibly well to the medium of cinema. The common thread that connects a lot of these tales is the immeasurable and simply unthinkable acts of bravery and sacrifice these people demonstrated in the face of unimaginable evil.
What Son Of Saul achieves is a raw and powerful sense of individuality amid an endless and hellish bombardment of war, torture, gunfire and death, however with a minimalistic approach, a sense of hope and enlightenment is difficult to grasp.
Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) belongs to a specific group of Jewish prisoners named Sonderkommando within the concentration camp and is responsible for burning the corpses countless of his own people after being forced to file them into horrific shower blocks. Played expertly by Röhrig, Saul is a broken, tortured individual who has seemingly lost everything.
Like his fellow prisoners, he has been stripped of his identity and has been boiled down to his very core as a human being, however following the discovery of a particular boy, Saul’s time inside the hellish confines of the concentration camp change significantly. What ensues is a visceral, heavy-going journey set over two days that is oxymoronically an immensely gripping endurance test.
Imagery does the talking within the impactful war drama as barely a word is spoken, at least by Saul himself.
Speaking only when necessary, the majority of the story is told by following Saul as he explores the labyrinthine chambers and the outside work stations in which he is pushed and callously ordered to carry out various ineffable tasks.
It would seem that this is both a visual and narrative choice in the sense that the storytellers are aware of the audience’s familiarity with the context in which the film is set. The audience are aware of the horrors taking place in the background of the scene and thus the focus need not be on the shocking imagery of death, but the individual whose story we experience for the first time.
What cinematographer Mátyás Erdély achieves with his camerawork is a sense of claustrophobia and individualism through the use of extensive takes shot with a 4:3 aspect ratio. With the use of a 40mm lens that has an incredibly tight depth of field, the technical components that work together and give the film it’s distinctive look further the story and the circumstances in a considerably striking manner.
Throughout the film, there are countless examples of where only Saul will be in focus, with the background action and surrounding prisoners blurred out. Where it may be more conventional to shoot with a larger depth of field, the tightness of the focus within the compressed frame heightens the realism of the story both thematically and emotionally. It’s an incredibly clever way of portraying an individual’s personal journey amid a world of chaotic and unwavering evil.
Overall a grim and affecting tale of death and evil, Son Of Saul, with it’s limited colour pallet and minimalistic dialogue, paints a believable and harrowing picture of one of the most despicable periods in history.
Spotlighting one man who sets off on a journey of morality and righteousness, László Nemes has begun his directorial career with a towering piece of cinema that stands above many of it’s kind through it’s sheer power and acutely distressing storytelling abilities.