Jan. 27, 2016
László Nemes’ thrilling depiction of the horrifying nature of the Holocaust in his Oscar-nominated film Son of Saul (2015) results in a unique and original take on the experience of being a Jewish prisoner in the death camps.
The film is set during the final years of the Second World War and tells the story of Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz. Saul works as a member of a Sonderkommando group, a unit composed of Jewish prisoners who are forced to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims. One day, while cleaning up after an extermination, Saul is staggered when he comes across the body of a young boy who he believes to be his own son. Saul salvages the body, and the plot revolves around Saul’s quest to find a rabbi among the hundreds of flocking prisoners in an effort to give the boy a proper burial.
The camera follows Saul around the camp almost like a documentary crew throughout most of the film, and relies heavily on close-ups that limit much of the view of action around him. The addition of shaky camera movements and uncomfortable camera angles further strengthens the realism of the film. The overall tone of uneasiness in the film is captured through the anxiety created by the tight spaces of the camera, which further emphasizes the confinement the walls of the camp create.
Sound is another powerful tool Nemes uses in this film to capture the horrifying experience of life inside the Auschwitz camp. The use of emotional background music isn’t exploited in the film, but rather the story depends on the piercing cries of those facing death and suffering to strike the audience aurally. We rarely ever see death occur in the film, but the frightening screams and desperate pleads of those facing the gas chambers is more than enough to paint the horrible image of death in our heads. Again, Nemes aims to capture the terror in its actuality.
Nemes’ debut feature movie is a Holocaust film like no other. It’s an experience that forces audiences to accept the harsh reality of what actually happened inside the walls of the extermination camps. It’s edgy and tense, and the stylistic techniques are what makes this film so successful in capturing that reality.
This isn’t a film blanketed with censorship or unrealistic Hollywood conventions. It is a film that presents the evil and horror that was the Holocaust in the most realistic manner possible.