Film Notes: Son of Saul (2015) directed by László Nemes

HU / 107 minutes / color / Laokoon Filmgroup Dir: László Nemes Pro: Gábor Sipos, Gábor Rajna Scr: László Nemes, Clara Royer Cine: Mátyás Erdély Mus: László Melis Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Sándor Zsótér, Marcin Czarnik, Jerzy Zalczak, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Kamil Dobrowski, Amital Kedar, Istvan Pion, Juli Jakab, Levente Orban Release Date: (Cannes Film Festival) 15 May 2015. (Spain) 15 January 2016-

Son of Saul (Original title: Saul fia) is set in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, and follows a day-and-a-half in the life of Saul Ausländer (played by Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando. The film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. It was also shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. It is the ninth Hungarian film to be nominated for the award, and the first one since István Szabó’s Hanussen in 1988. It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It is the first Hungarian film to win the award. (Source: Wikipedia)

Synopsis: One of the most talked-about films of the year, and winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival László Nemes’ tour-de-force directorial debut is a powerful and gripping representation of the horrors of the Holocaust. In the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp at the tail end of the Second World War, the Hungarian Jew Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) works as a member of the camp’s Sonderkommando unit, assigned to shepherd the constant stream of prisoners into the gas chambers and dispose of their bodies thereafter. When one young boy he retrieves from the chamber exhibits a brief flicker of life before dying, Saul is shaken out of his deadened state. Determined to give the child a proper burial — a mission made even more urgent by an impending breakout attempt — Saul manoeuvres his way through the camp’s intricate networks in search of a rabbi to perform the Jewish prayer for the dead. “A terrifyingly accomplished first feature … a masterful exercise in narrative deprivation and sensory overload that recasts familiar horrors in daringly existential terms” (Variety). (Source: Toronto Film Festival)

László Nemes was born in 1977 in Budapest, Hungary. After studying History, International Relations and Screenwriting in Paris, he started working as an assistant director in France and Hungary on short and feature films. For two years, he worked as Béla Tarr’s assistant on The Man From London, and subsequently studied film directing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He directed the shorts Türelem (07), The Counterpart (08), and The Gentleman Takes His Leave (10). Son of Saul (15) is his first feature. He is member of the European Film Academy since 2008.

Begoña and I had the opportunity to see this film a couple of days ago and I very much agree with foxgrove, a reviewer at  Metacritic, here. He wrote: “Son of Saul is one of those important films that comes so steeped in the injustices and horrors of its history that one feels positively guilty about saying anything negative about it.” …. “The ambiguity surrounding whether or not the boy is actually Saul’s …. causes confusion in the narrative which, in turn, has an overall detrimental impact.” “The film’s style further distances…. Long tracking shots, out of focus imagery and an in your face claustrophobic feel becomes somewhat overwhelming.” “Likewise, the frenetic and dizzying camera movements don’t always allow time to process exactly what is happening.” However, I also realises the film has some superb sequences. And I could not agree more with him when he states that “Overall the film cries out to be seen (the critics seem to have been inventing superlatives for it). I just wish that I liked it as much as I appreciate it.” (The emphasis in bold letters is mine). In any case it’s an essential film for a better understanding of II World War. It seems to me a clear favourite to win the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars.

Official site

Laszlo Nemes Narrates a Scene From ‘Son of Saul’

Laszlo Nemes’s Son of Saul by David Hudson at Fandor

The Hollywood Reporter

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