Starring: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn
Director: László Nemes
Running Time: 107 mins
Son Of Saul (Saul fia) is a Hungarian film about a prisoner in Auschwitz who, after losing all hope being forced to burn the dead bodies of his own people on a daily basis, finds solace in attempting to give a young boy a proper burial, even if it puts the lives of his fellow prisoners at risk.
Despite the brilliance of films like Schindler’s List, it’s very hard to portray the Holocaust on screen effectively, making both an emotionally engaging story whilst clearly and still appropriately showing the horrors that people suffered under capture by the Nazis. And that’s why Son Of Saul is a very good film. It’s a brutal, real and very uncomfortable film to watch that uses expert directing techniques to make a very affecting story that really shows how bad life was in the concentration camps.
Firstly, I want to clear up exactly what this film is. Unlike Schindler’s List, which is aims more to show the scale of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the 1930s and 40s, Son Of Saul is a far smaller story, which focusses on one concentration camp, and one story, therefore showing more how horrific the Holocaust was, rather than how widely affecting it was.
That’s evident right the way through the film, because we spend most of Son Of Saul looking directly at the main character, Saul’s face, therefore making this a much more personal story. That directorial technique works fantastically, because it means you get so close to Saul for such a long time that it’s very easy to form an emotional connection with the character, which in turn makes for a more hard-hitting film.
The other reason that the decision to focus so tightly on Saul’s face works is because it makes for a simply more uncomfortable watch. Through physically shrinking the screen with its smaller aspect ratio, and resisting the temptation to survey the devastation surrounding Saul, this film becomes a much tougher watch.
It feels painfully claustrophobic, and, by rarely showing us what Saul is looking at, and just his reaction, it works in the same way to a horror film where you don’t see the monster, as your imagination can come up with far worse images than anything a film can show you, which was hugely impressive to see.
As a technical achievement, I was very impressed with Son Of Saul, but it also does its job of giving a hard-hitting but effective portrayal of the Holocaust well. By the nature of the subject matter, and the film’s unrelenting ability to give a sense of total despair, it’s very hard not to feel uncomfortable watching this.
There’s no score, and there’s no frilly, artistic editing. In truth, this is one of the most raw and realistic films showing the Holocaust of all time, and it makes for a captivating, if not very uncomfortable watch, and that’s why I’m giving Son Of Saul a 7.7.