HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Son of Saul
HTS Overall Score:84
“Son of Saul” is just one of those films that is BEGGING to win best foreign language film, and rightfully so I might add. It’s a passion project from writer/director Laszlo Nemes in his search to make an Auschwitz movie that isn’t clichéd or overly dramatic. Taking a look at the hard lives of the men and women in the prison camp, it narrows the focus of the film (in more ways than one ironically) and zeroes in on a single man and his obsession with finding a Rabbi to bury a young child properly. It’s almost so simple that it makes you wonder just HOW it can go on for so long, but so incredibly intense that you don’t want the story to end. Language is simple, and you can tell that the subtitles were crafted by someone without extensive knowledge of modern English, but the visual storytelling is more than compelling enough to draw the viewer into the intimate story.
We all know about Auschwitz and the atrocities that were committed there during the 2nd World War. When we think of gas chambers that’s the very first name that pops into our head (even though there were actually quite a few other places that practiced the despicable act of gassing and burning prisoners alive). This tale follows (quite singularly in fact) one prisoner by the name of Saul (Geza Rohrig) who is operating in a Sunderkommando. A Sunderkommando is a subset of the prisoners who act as cleanup crew and special projects for their captors. They are kept separate from the rest of the camp so as to not spread information to the other prisoners and this particular group is in charge of cleaning up the bodies after prisoners are put through the gas chambers. Saul is forced day in and day out to clean blood off of the gas chamber walls, go through the pockets of the deceased to look for valuables of any kind and to pack up the bodies to be sent on to the burning phase. It may seem like a pretty cushy gig for a prisoner of war, but the downside is that these Sunderkommando groups usually are exterminated after a couple months’ worth of work and that time is coming to a close soon.
Near the end of his time in the SUnderkommando, Saul sees a young boy who just barely survives the gassing. Taking a shine to him, Saul watches the doctor kill the young boy and send his body off to the morgue. Desperate for some sense of humanity, the Hungarian Jew decides to take it upon himself to get the boy a proper burial. Describing what happens next is counterproductive, but needless to say the fruitless journey that Saul undertakes is nothing short of exhilarating and heart wrenching. He knows that it’s going to be almost impossible, but the depths the man goes to in order to bring honor and peace to this single victim shows a focus and depth to his character that can’t really be told in words. That’s not to say that Saul is a silent person, as he has plenty to say in order to wheedle and connive his way into the proper channels necessary for his success, but the intricate facial expressions tell so much more than simple words ever can.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=69505[/img]“Son of Saul” is much more a character study of one man’s desperate attempt to hold on to some of his remaining humanity. Forced to watch the gassings every day and tearing through bodies in a cold effectual manner robs people of their soul. Desensitization is not just something that happens to someone who plays videogames or watches violent movies (according to some theories), but rather seeing those atrocities makes one numb to its horror over time. However, no matter the atrocity, or the length of time watching said atrocities, there is a piece of the human soul that begs for goodness and honor. Especially if you were that way BEFORE your trial. Saul is one such man. He knows that he has seen atrocities that no one should ever have to endure, and that finding this one lone child a peaceful burial is not logical, but he does so anyways. Struggling on against impossible and illogical odds in order to regain that piece of himself that has been lost.
Nemes does a fantastic job at creating a very intimate film, using the camera to focus in on Saul and never letting it go throughout the movie. In fact, I can count on my hands the number of times the camera widened its focus and stretched out to a wider angle. Instead it feels almost like we’re watching THROUGH Saul’s eyes with the tight focus and shaky follow cam that stays just above the title character’s shoulder the whole time. It keeps a unique perspective in a world that would show so much more atrocities and violence had the camera not been so single minded. It allows for glimpses of horrors to be seen through Saul’s eyes, but still contains the majority of them to our imagination instead of just shocking the audience with excessive horrors that have already been well documented over the last 70+ years.
Rated R for disturbing violent content, and some graphic nudity.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=69513[/img]One of the biggest “oddities” of “Son of Saul” comes from the camera work. While the encode is nearly spotless, the actual filming style is something to be seen to understood. Instead of your standard 1.78:1 or 2.40:1 bracket for aspect ratios in the modern day, Nemes decided to shoot in 1.33:1 and keep a VERY tight field of vision on the focus lens. The camera hovers just over the shoulder of Saul, with the focus being COMPLETLEY on him for 99% of the time. That means that anything not directly in the same plane as Saul is completely out of focus, drawing your attention straight to the title character and very rarely allowing it to leave him. Sometimes the lens is adjusted to focus on something farther out as Saul looks in that direction, but most of the time it’s a very claustrophobic style that forces the viewer to keep their eyes on Saul at all times. Blacks are deep and inky and fine detail is excellent in the line of focus, but outside of that the rest of the picture can lose tons of detail and looks extremely blurry exception for whoever is being focused on during that moment. I can’t fault the encode AT ALL for that, as it was definitely a stylistic choice by Laszlo Nemes, but it does keep the movie from being complete eye candy.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=69521[/img]The 5.1 Hungarian/Yiddish/German/Russian/Polish track (yes all those languages are spoken at some point during the film, with an emphasis on German and Hungarian) is MOST effective, with a wildly diverse experience that ranges from the scratching and scratching of horse hair brushes on cement floors to the explosions of gunfire and the screaming of prisoners as they are going quite literally from the frying pan into the fire. The surrounds are going full bore with all sorts of ambient noises and little nuanced details coming from the year and sides. Just listen to the scene where Saul and his partner are repairing the lock on the camp door. You can hear the flicker of gunfire off to one side, the creaking of the door on the other and the harsh whispering of vocals coming from the foreground. I did notice that the subtitles felt a bit awkwardly written, as if the person who wrote them didn’t have a great grasp of the English language, but they are easily discernable even if they do seem childish in their structure at times.
• Commentary with director László Nemes, actor Géza Röhrig and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély
• Museum of Tolerance Q&A with director László Nemes, actor Géza Röhrig and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély
• Deleted Scene
“Son of Saul” is very close to a masterpiece, and I don’t like to use that term lightly. Especially in regards to war films. Laszlo Nemes has crafted a unique film that takes an old subject and puts a new spin on it. We all know the horrors of the German concentration camps, but the focused take on a single man and his quest for a semblance of redemption is so refreshing and so intensely captivating that I couldn’t help but feel as if I were watching the conflict for the first time. The audio is fantastic and the filming style an acquired taste, but the short list of extras actually have a LOT of meat on the bones and are well worth the time spend listening to the director’s commentary as well as Q&A. Highly Recommended.
Starring: Geza Rohrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn
Directed by: László Nemes
Written by: László Nemes, Clara Royer
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 AVC
Audio: Hungarian, Yiddish, German, Russian and Polish DTS-HD MA 5.1 (all languages spoken at different parts on the same track)
Runtime: 107 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 26th 2016
Buy Son of Saul On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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