Son Of Saul review: A remarkable, though harrowing piece of filmmaking from an exciting new talent.
Son Of Saul is a Palme D’Or nominated and Cannes Grand Prix winner from earlier this year, which finally makes it to British shores as an official competition entry at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.
The film revolves around the title character of Saul, newcomer Géza Röhrig, and is set during two specific days amongst the horrors of Auchwitz towards the end of World War II in 1944. Saul is a Hungarian prisoner of war, working as a Sonderkommando, who is forced to burn the corpses, or ‘pieces’ as they’re referred to throughout, of his fellow countrymen after they’ve exited the gas chambers. With his own fate set to be sealed any day, Saul takes it upon himself to bury the body of a young boy, who he takes on as his own son. Saul tasks himself to find a Rabbi amongst the population and set about the impossible task of saving him from a post-mortem and the flames to which he is destined, and give him the burial that he deserves.
Director László Nemes has delivered an intense, tough film as his debut feature, and while it is extremely hard to watch in places, the talented filmmaker has set about bringing this harrowing story to the screen in a truly unique way. The open shot sets the scene as to how Nemes and his team want Son Of Saul is to be told, and a totally out of focus shot is presented before us with the title character slowly walking towards the camera before coming into focus about two feet away. This rest of the film is presented in this way too, with Nemes and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély‘s unconventional 4:3 camera frame no more than a few feet away from Saul for most of the movie. Most of the shots have the shallowest depth of field possible, the background almost always blurred, which not only gives you the impression that our lead character is blocking out the true horrors that surround him, but give us, the viewer, an intense, claustrophobic, nauseating experience all of the way through. The camera is almost always tight to Saul’s head and shoulders, and very rarely to we see anything in focus beyond, but the blurred, often dark and out of focus images that suggest the terrors that are taking place. It’s a device that is at first difficult to get used to, but totally effective.
Son Of Saul is a very strong first feature from director Nemes, whose unflinching camera and solid script isn’t afraid of the subject matter. Lead actor Géza Röhrig is also outstanding as the character of Saul. Most of his performance is captured from the chest up. A truly remarkable piece of acting in a film that should be sought out. An outstanding piece of filmmaking from a very gifted team of filmmakers.
Son Of Saul review by Paul Heath, October, 2015.
Son Of Saul debuts at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday 10th October.