Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes’s formally and thematically daring directorial debut Son of Saul – he had earlier assisted Béla Tarr in The Man from London – is an intensely harrowing and a deeply disorienting film. The topics of Holocaust, Nazi extermination camps and the Final Solution, and more specifically the Sonderkommandos – a unit of death camp prisoners who were tasked with the hideous responsibility of disposing of dead bodies from gas chambers by burning them in pits, making the chambers spic and span for the next lot of doomed arrivals, and passing on the valuables left behind to the camp authorities – made this such an excruciatingly harrowing watch. And, in a stylistic choice that made it such a disorienting experience both visually and viscerally, the film was shot not just in long takes, but more notably in extreme shallow-focus close-ups pivoted on its dazed and numbed protagonist Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Jewish prisoner and member of the ghastly aforementioned unit in Auschwitz-Birkanau; the camera was obsessively centered either on his face or on his back throughout the duration, with the rest of the screen largely out of focus, as a result of which most of the action happens off screen, so to speak. Set over the course of a day towards the end of WWII when mass exterminations were horrendously accelerated, Saul finds a young boy among the dead heap in the gas chamber. Calling the boy his son – though the veracity of that remains doubtful – he embarks on a monomaniac endeavor to find a rabbi and give a proper burial to the boy, even to the detriment of the tragically futile uprising being planned by the camp’s Resistance.
Director: Laszlo Nemes
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Holocaust Film