Son of Saul: Review

I came across Son of Saul (directed by László Nemes) in a discussion about Tim Snyder’s new book, Black Earth (my short review here). Son of Saul follows the life of a Hungarian Jew who is also a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz concentration camp. During his routine, he finds the body of (what seems to be) his son (a young boy) and tries to give him a proper Jewish burial. Saul travels around Auschwitz (trading places with other prisoners, bribing, or exchanging favours) in order to find a Rabbi. The audience gets to see fragments of life (and death) at Auschwitz.

The film is very well done. In terms of cinematography, it has one of the best uses of focal length I have seen and its use of sound (and lack of a film score) is fantastic. When you watch it, make sure you’re listening to it through good-quality headphones or speakers. My only reservation is that, near the end, there are a few scenes (the breakout from Auschwitz) where I felt like I was watching an action movie and not Son of Saul—it was almost as if Nemes forgot the tone of the rest of the film. In terms of the film’s content, it presents the Holocaust differently than most films. Having Saul (and other supporting roles) as a member of the Sonderkommando adds further complexity and upsets the typically clear distinction of roles portrayed in most Hollywood films on the holocaust—the film reminded me of Tadeusz Borowski’s short story, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, which I also highly recommend.

It is a heavy film, but very well done.