SON OF SAUL

— by Jeff Schultz
Two hours of hopelessness and one man’s effort to make his last act count. A total immersion into the charnel house horror that was the Holocaust. Director László Nemes and his production team have conjured up a tactile sense of filth, death and chaos that carries through from initial scenes of Jews herded into gas chambers — the (literally) naked dehumanization, the screams, the pounding to get out, the piled carcasses, the scrubbing of blood off walls and floors — all the way to the final fusillade that brings the drama to its end. It’s remarkable, not least for the sound design, so unsettling in its horrific fury, so harsh and loud, making you realize that for these victims, there was hardly ever a moment’s respite and always the knowledge that death was imminent. The movie’s focus is the Sonderkommandos — Jews forced to work in the death camps as accessories to genocide, who were allowed to live just a little bit longer before their own extermination. With its semi-documentary feel, SOS resembles SCHINDLER’S LIST. (Astonishingly, SAUL was made for less than a million dollars. SCHINDLER’S budget: 22 million.) Unlike the Spielberg film, SAUL’s is an invented story (although bolstered by ten years of research). The story involves one Sonderkommando’s determination to secretly bury a Jewish boy with religious rites, a boy who somehow managed to survive his gassing — only to be suffocated right afterward by a Nazi who is told the boy is still breathing. Saul thinks of the boy as his “son”, and his single-minded determination (knowing it may get him killed, but also understanding he will be killed regardless) drives the film. The accomplishment is undeniable. Think of it: this project started on a piece of paper and was turned into a living, breathing, dying-in-agony onscreen depiction. Viewers will have to decide for themselves if it’s worth feeling like crap afterward, because you will. Not a date movie. 

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