Movie Reviews

Movie Review: 'Son of Saul'

By Dave ChuaMovies - 24 February 2016 9:00 AM | Updated 25 February 2016

Movie Review: 'Son of Saul'

Our Rating

4/5 Stars

‘Son of Saul’, the debut feature of Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes, is a claustrophobic, incisive feature that is disorienting, yet one of the most unique film experiences of recent years. It won the Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes and is a contender for an Oscar in the same category as well.

Set in Auschwitz around October 1944, near the tail end of the war, ‘Son of Saul’ is told from the perspective of Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig), a member of the Sonderkommandos, Jewish prisoners who assisted the Nazis in the extermination of other Jews. The Sonderkommandos were given a temporary extension on their own lives in return for leading other Jews into gas chambers and disposing of the bodies of the dead afterward. 

One of the Nazi's victims is a boy whom Saul believes to be his son. He attempts to give the boy a proper burial, which sets off a personal quest that forms the main spine of the movie. 

Meanwhile, the other Sonderkommandos plan an escape, but time is running short. The Nazis are calling for more Jews to be led into the gas chambers 

The film is shot in an almost squarish frame more suited for television, and we follow Saul from just behind his shoulder and see his perspective of the events transpiring over the one and a half-days at the concentration camp. The result is a claustrophobic, unsettling film. 

Relative newcomer Rohrig is superb in the lead role. He is haunted by what he must do as a member of the Sonderkommandos; tricking Jews into stepping into a gas chamber and then cleaning the remains from the floor.  

Nemes conjures up scenes reminiscent of the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, but we often see them in blurred, muddy images, as though, just like Saul, we deny their existence. The relationship between Saul and some of the other Sonderkommandos is never clear, but they seem to be in a sort of limbo, on the edge between life and death. The Nazis at the camp show no signs of weakening, but ask the Sonderkommandos to increase production as though they are asking a factory to produce goods faster. 

The shaky camerawork can be overwhelming at times. One scene near the end of the movie is particularly grating, reminding one of scenes found in horror movies.  

Nonetheless, ‘Son of Saul’ avoids the signposts prevalent in so many Hollywood movies, and the turns of the story are often unpredictable. It stays away from the emotional catharsis of films tackling similar material, such as Steven Spielberg's ‘Schindler's List’ or Polanski's ‘The Pianist’.

It's not a comfortable film to watch. ‘Son of Saul’ is a cinematic experience that is claustrophobic and shocking, and a film that lingers long after the final shot. It is a film that is never showy, and tackles a subject matter in an unflinching manner. 

Son Of Saul
  • Son Of Saul

  • Rated
    M18 /
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