Friday, August 26, 2016
Son of Saul
Directed by Laszlo Nemes and written by Nemes and Clara Royer, Saul fia (Son of Saul) is the story about the thirty-six hours in the life of a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando unit who works at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The film is a study of a man who is tasked to do a lot of the clean-up as he copes with finding the body of a young boy where he goes on a search for a rabbi to give the boy a proper burial. Starring Geza Rohrig, Levente Molnar, and Urs Rechin. Saul fia is a gripping and intense film from Laszlo Nemes.
Set in 1944 at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, the film is about the life of a Jewish-Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando unit who finds the body of a boy at a gas chamber as he decides to give him a proper burial. It’s a film told in the span of thirty-six hours where this man is tasked to do a lot of clean-up work and make sure the gas chamber is clean for the next group of people killed. When he finds that a young boy has survived being in the gas chamber and later die in the infirmary, he is consumed with grief as he tries to do what is right. Yet, the journey to find a rabbi as well as maintain his job becomes a risky one as Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig) is trying to keep himself in check and not get killed. The film’s screenplay doesn’t really have much of a structure as it is more about Saul trying to do whatever he can in his journey to do what is right as he has to contend with other members of the Sonderkommando as well as the Germans running the camp.
Laszlo Nemes’ direction is very entrancing for the fact that it is shot largely inside the camps as there aren’t a lot of exterior shots in the film as it’s shot on location in the small town of Budafok near Budapest, Hungary. Shot in the Academy aspect ratio of 1:37:1, the film has this presentation that is very narrow and claustrophobic as it play into the sense of realism that occurs inside the camps as well as a look into the gas chambers and where these men had to sleep at. That sense of intimacy in the direction as well as not using a lot of wide shots play into a world that is quite dangerous and everything has to be up and running. The usage of the medium shots and close-ups add to that claustrophobic tone while much of the film is shot with hand-held cameras to play into that urgency and immediacy inside the camp including the ovens.
Nemes also goes for these long and intricate tracking shots as it play into a lot of what goes on where Nemes knows when not to cut for dramatic effect while just letting these scenes play out. Even towards its third act where Saul does whatever to find a rabbi as it include this intense sequence of him going into the woods where Jews are being executed. The film’s climax doesn’t just involve Saul’s chance but also a realization of what is happening as it play into the danger that is the life of a Jew inside this concentration camp. Overall, Nemes crafts a very visceral and riveting film about a man trying to bury a boy at Auschwitz.
Cinematographer Matyas Erdely does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography as it has this air of realism in its look while using some light for much of the interiors while emphasizing on natural lighting for the exterior scenes in the film. Editor Matthieu Taponier does nice work with the editing as it is largely straightforward as it doesn‘t play into any kind of stylish rhythms while using cut-to-black for the opening sequence. Production designer Laszlo Rajk, with art director Hedvig Kiraly and set decorators Dorka Kiss and Judit Varga, does amazing work with the look of the infirmary, ovens, and gas chambers of what play into this intense world of the concentration camp.
Costume designer Edit Szucs does terrific work with the costumes as it has this sense of de-colorization as well as not going for any style other than the uniforms of the Nazis. Sound designer Tamas Zanyi and sound editor Tamas Szekely do excellent work with the sound in playing up the atmosphere of the camps in and outside as well the sounds of the gas chambers and the people screaming from the inside heard by those outside of the chambers. The film’s music by Laszlo Melis is wonderful as it is mainly played during the final credits as it’s really just somber string music that play into the tragic events that occur in the film.
The casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Juli Jakab as prisoner named Ella who would give Saul a package used to buy things, Todd Charmont as a French rabbi Saul would find late in the film, Kamil Dobrowolski as a section captain, Jerzy Walczak as a rabbi who refuses to help, Uwe Lauer as a commandant, and Christian Harting as another commandant who watches over the men dig ashes into the river. Sandor Zsoter is excellent as Dr. Miklos Nyiszli as the camp doctor who helps Saul hide the boy’s body as well as try to do whatever he can to keep it a secret from the Nazis.
Urs Rechn is brilliant as section captain who tries to maintain some order while secretly trying to plan a revolt against the camp. Levente Molnar is fantastic as Abraham as a Sonderkommando worker who also tries to stage a revolt as well as maintain a low profile. Finally, there’s Geza Rohrig in an incredible performance as Saul Auslander as this Sonderkommando member who finds a boy in the gas chamber as he tries to do what is right while coping with the danger of his personal task along with the presence of the Nazi.
Saul fia is a phenomenal film from Laszlo Nemes. Featuring a great cast, a discerning tone, an eerie soundtrack, and intoxicating visuals. It’s a film that doesn’t just showcase some of the darkest aspects of the Holocaust but what a man tries to do to try and do something good in a very dark world. In the end, Saul fia is a tremendous film from Laszlo Nemes.
Related: Sunset (2018 film)
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