Son Of Saul

25 February 2016 | 6:26 pm | David O’Connell

"A powerful, moving and harrowing film."

Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig) is a Hungarian Jew working in Auschwitz as part of a trusted prisoner unit (sonderkommando). It is their job to gather the belongings of the condemned and dispose of the corpses from the gas chambers. As they themselves are part of that atrocious secret, it is not a job the Nazis allow them to keep for long. When Saul forms a relationship with an executed boy, he seeks any way possible to give him a proper burial. As tensions in the camp start to rise, and a break out is planned, Saul's actions may endanger him and his fellow prisoners.

Son Of Saul makes the courageous decision to tuck the camera in close so the audience can see every nuance of expression on the actor's face, as one of the greatest horrors of the 20th century occurs around him. We stay there, with him, throughout almost the entire movie. This is an unbelievable gamble that pays off. The result is possible one of the toughest viewing experiences you are likely to have, an amazing and powerful piece of cinema.

Son Of Saul forces the audience to experience all the emotions flowing through the central character. Paradoxically this is more effective than it would be if we were given a larger overview of the camp in action. We cannot detach, we cannot be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the atrocity, and retreat to numbers as an impersonal refuge. Instead it is intensely personal, as we are given a walking tour of a death-camp in action; from the gas chambers, to the incinerators, to the ash piles being thrown in the river. The audience is thrown head long into the mix, struggling to get used to the cacophony of sound and action that is taking place around them from the very first unloading of a trainful of Jews.

Geza Rohrig is superb. His eyes downcast, his expression guarded, but filled with determination. He is our guide and our point of view, and carries our attention throughout.

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A powerful, moving and harrowing film, Son Of Saul is not for everyone, but it certainly should be. This is one of those cinema experiences you can't afford to miss, and a memory that will haunt you for long after.  

Originally published in X-Press Magazine