“Son of Saul” tells the story of Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners isolated from the camp and forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large- scale extermination. In October 1944, Saul discovers the corpse of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task.
The film has an incredibly unique approach to the concentration camps. Shot on a 35mm hand-held camera, the photography is almost always focused on Saul, with a 1.37:1 ratio which makes you feel imprisoned just like Saul, leaving the atrocities offscreen or out of focus, but often vividly audible. If there is any complaint, it’s that the editing suffers from its long-take construction, but the sound design is an absolute masterclass. Saul’s face remains stoic but Röhrig soaks it all in, leaving his mournful expression to interpretation. While he’s apparently numb, he’s always fully invested in the moment. The way the film builds these routines are very intimate and exhausting and despite being a fictionalized story, it feels very real.
Its the direction of Nemes that should make the world very optimistic about the future of cinema. If we have filmmakers like him, getting in the trenches of history and the human spirit, and beckoning its awakening into our souls, we should be so lucky to have him display the beauty and evil of the world in such a provocative and engaging manner. His choices in which to shoot the film, and portray one of the most heinous acts in the history of our existence is just downright scintillating.
Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély is your next great craftsman to watch, even though making his mark on films like “The Quiet Ones” and “Miss Bala.” He frames close-ups that Danny Cohen himself, would hope to achieve in his next collaboration with Tom Hooper. He stays with a person, a scene, a moment, so intelligently, and so vibrantly, he places each one of us in the rooms, full of fear, and full of hopelessness.
The film’s power is immobilizing and thoroughly unforgiving, but with good reason. Son of Saul, with its immaculate production, attention to detail, and own noble mission, is one of the best movies of the year. Despite its small scope, it dwarfs every other film on offer this year.
Son of Saul gets a 9.0/10.