Two days in the life of Saul Auslander, Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando at one of the Auschwitz Crematoriums who, to bury the corpse of a boy he takes for his son, tries to carry out his impossible deed: salvage the body and find a rabbi to bury it. While the Sonderkommando is to be liquidated at any moment, Saul turns away of the living and their plans of rebellion to save the remains of a son he never took care of when he was still alive. Written by
This film is an astonishing tour-de-force. I don't recall seeing anything like it before.
Fictions set in Nazi concentration camps need to be handled very carefully indeed if they are not to diminish, even trivialise, what took place there. Such films are difficult to criticise, because their subject matter is not only historical fact, it is also the ultimate depravity of human beings. Art must deal with it, because nothing can lie outside of art's sphere, but really it is not a fit subject for bad art, such as Spielberg's Schindler's List. With its beautifully-played violin theme and its clever girl-in-the-red-coat in a black-and-white film, Spielberg used the vocabulary of a Hollywood movie to present this profound subject. Nothing that even its very committed actors could do was able to ground the piece in a convincing reality. The result, as far as I was concerned, in spite of what I'm sure were the best of intentions of the director and his team, was little short of repulsive.
Since seeing Schindler's List I have steered clear of films attempting to depict life in the camps. I haven't seen Life is Beautiful, for example, nor The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. For all I know, they are works of genius. Son of Saul definitely is: not only does it not betray the cruelty, the tragedy of the camps, it brings it home in such a vivid way that it is sometimes extremely difficult to watch. But it is necessary to watch. In fact, it must be watched more than once, because it is not only emotionally draining, it is also amazing technically, but because it sweeps you up in its reality, it is impossible to take in the technical achievements on only one viewing.
Son of Saul was directed by László Nemes, written by Mr Nemes and Clara Royer, and photographed unnervingly by Mátyás Erdély. Saul himself is incarnated by Géza Röhrig, superbly leading an excellent ensemble.
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