SON OF SAUL (Hungary/15A/107mins) Directed by László Nemes. Starring Géza Róhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Jerzy Walczak, Gergó Farkas, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting. THE PLOT: With what seems like one endless shot, we join Saul (Róhrig) as he goes about his daily job in Auschwitz-Birkenau, leading a large group of Jews, first to a changing room, and then, to the showers. Where they are soon banging on the doors to get out as Saul starts systematically taking away all their clothes. Saul knows it’s best if he keeps to himself as much as humanly possible, but his survival routine is thrown when he discovers the corpse of what he believes to be his son. Determined that the boy should have a proper Jewish burial rather than be simply thrown into the ovens means Saul has to break many of the rules he so meticulously follows…
THE VERDICT: Telling the story of the holocaust through the experience of just one man works wonders here for first-time writer/director Laszlo Nemes. The challenge of taking not only a grim slice of 20th century history and capturing its true horror in just over and hour-and-a-half but also taking on a subject that cinema has long been tackling without appearing to be treading on overly-familiar ground is met here with a truly engaging film.
Not that Son Of Saul is an easy watch – in truth, how could it be? Do we really want another Life Is Beautiful? Another The Day The Clown Cried? Any movie about such a dark blot on our planet should be difficult, should be troubling. We stay mercifcully close to Saul through, Nemes movie at times seeming like a perverted take on Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s 2006 documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Whenever the camera does pull back from Saul’s face, the focus usually kills any chance of the outside world coming fully into view.
It’s a highly effective approach, and it’s clear why the Cannes committee were happy to put this first-timer in their competition last year. Be prepared to be moved. RATING: 4/5 Review by Paul Byrne