Set in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in October, 1944, this powerful, poignant story revolves around a Hungarian Jewish prisoner named Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig). He’s a member of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners assigned the grim task of carrying corpses from the gas chamber to the crematorium, then carting away the ashes to be discarded. As Allied Forces draw closer to the camp, the pace of killing is accelerated. Among the dead, Saul finds the body of a young boy he claims as his son, and he becomes obsessed with finding a rabbi among the prisoners to say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) and give the child a proper burial. Read on…
Inspired by “Voices from Beneath the Ashes,” true tales from Auschwitz which was published in Jean-Paul Sartre’s periodical “Les Temps Modernes,” Hungarian-born writer/director Laszlo Nemes noted: “The story of the Holocaust is not the story of the exceptions who survived. It is the story of the dead.”
Co-scripting with Clara Royer, first-time feature film director Nemes reveals the agony solely through Saul’s perception, as cinematographer Matyas Erdely consigns violence and nudity into the un-focused background, along with the desperate wailing and persistent screaming. Adding to the chilling effect, there is no musical score.
As a former watchmaker-turned locksmith, Saul’s urgency is further heightened by plans for an upcoming Sonderkommando rebellion and their interaction with SS guards and Oberkapos (superior officers).
“You’ve failed the living to help the dead,” he’s told.
So add “Son of Saul” to the pantheon of visceral, visually striking Holocaust films that includes “Schindler’s List,” “Shoah,” “The Grey Zone” and “Life is Beautiful.”
In Hungarian, Yiddish, German and Polish with English subtitles, “Son of Saul” is an intense, engrossing 8, an existential warning from history – and Hungary’s Official Selection for the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.