Son of Saul (2015)

son of saul review

If you’re someone who has seen way too many uninspired Holocaust dramas like I have, you’d probably think there’s no way this chapter in history can be told any differently. But Son of Saul, the debut feature from 39 year-old Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes manages to not only bring home the horror in a fresh way, but also offer one of the most profound, realistic and emotionally resonant filmic portrayals of the Holocaust that never falls into the exploitative territory.

The Saul in the title is Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig), a Hungarian Jew working in Auschwitz in 1944 as part of the Sonderkommando, a deputation of Jews who help the Nazis exterminate their fellow inmates in the concentration camp in exchange for a few extra months of life. Early on, upon removing corpses from the gas showers, Saul finds the body of a boy he believes to be his son. Saul becomes determined to give the boy a proper Jewish burial but his efforts soon begin to interfere with a planned prison break.

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Except for maybe the first and last shots of the film, Son of Saul takes place entirely around it’s protagonist. And shot in medium close-up it rarely moves more than arm’s length away from his face. This unique camerawork gives the film both a starkly claustrophobic and visceral feel while the rhythm and pacing determined by Nemes’s long, complex but never showy single takes immerse you into the film completely.

And it’s more than just a gimmick, in fact it’s anything but that, because Son of Saul doesn’t aim to make a statement nor does it aim to preach or drive home the pathos with sweeping orchestral music. Instead, this is a film about struggle, about a man broken beyond despair and about salvaging the tiniest shred of meaning from the most crushing of hardship.

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Geza Rohrig’s raw and riveting central performance anchors the film. It’s incredible how much he’s able to do just with his face and his performance does such an effective job of portraying a man broken beyond repair.

Son of Saul is an incredible film. It is without doubt one of the most ambitious directorial debuts in quite some time. It is a gripping, powerful and profoundly moving piece of cinema, whose rock-hard essence lingers in the mind, even after the film ends. Son of Saul doesn’t tell, it shows, and places the crushing burden on the rest of us.

9.7/10

-Khalid

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21 responses to “Son of Saul (2015)

  1. Nice review man. Son of Saul hit me like a brick, I had no idea it would be so powerful. Undeniably one of the best and most profound pictures of 2015 and certainly a movie I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

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  2. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a high score on here. Ive been aware of the outpouring of adoration upon this movie but I think this is now where Son of Saul is pushed into “must-see” territory for me. An excellent review here Khalid

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  3. I’m glad you liked it. I wasn’t as crazy about it, though I appreciate it. It was so bleak and I just grew frustrated with Saul distracting himself and putting the other men in danger because of it.

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  4. Fantastic review. Unbelievably gut-wrenching film. At first it took me some time to get my footing with the visual approach, but once I locked in it was something of pure amazement. The high score is well deserved.

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  5. I was so impressed with Son of Saul. It somehow didn’t shake me up emotionally as much as you’d expect but I admired the technique and I agree with you that the unique approach is so much more than a mere gimmick. I can’t imagine a better way to tell this particular story.

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      • No worries! 😀 This was just incredible huh? I’ve not seen a holocaust drama like it, is it one of the best? I think so

        I also liked the long takes that -weren’t- all showy and were done with a handi-cam. I’ve kinda gone off Luzbeki, his style seems a bit to flamboyant for me these days. I know I’m in the minority on that one though!

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      • It certainly was. And personally I’ve never really been a fan of most holocaust films because they rarely tend to go past showing the misery and despair and rarely tend to offer anything profound.
        Life is Beautiful was my favorite film about the Holocaust but I think this one definitely stands out as the best I have ever seen. And the reason is because it doesnt have anything exploitative and the emotional impact really hits you. And yeah, its incredibly well-shot and really immersive into the film aswell.

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      • I haven’t seen Life is Beautiful. I’m not the biggest fan of holocaust dramas either, my fave was the Pianist… this has easily taken over. Like you said, so damned immersive!

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  6. Pingback: Random Reflections #1 – First Reflection, Six Feet Under & Best of 2016 | The Blazing Reel·

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