Sunday, December 20, 2015

Movie with Abe: Son of Saul

Son of Saul
Directed by László Nemes
Released December 18, 2015

Movies about the Holocaust tend to receive plenty of awards attention because they tackle a difficult subject with respect and care, and find a way to tell a horrific, important story in a sensitive and fitting way. Often, such films pick a protagonist with a unique experience, like Oskar Schindler, who saved hundreds of Jews by employing them in his factory, or Władysław Szpilman, whose life was spared by a Nazi officer because of his extraordinary piano-playing skills. “Son of Saul” tells a fictional story of a man with a particularly despicable job in the Auschwitz concentration camp: to clean the gas chamber after every time it is used to exterminate helpless prisoners.

Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) first appears as he is walking silently through the camp, bowing his head and removing his hat whenever he passes a Nazi officer and marching forward rather than letting himself be distracted by anything going on around him. He assists unwitting prisoners as they are told to disrobe and put their belongings on hooks, and stands by as they are told to remember their hook number so that they may retrieve their belongings after their shower and before the hot soup they have been promised. Of course, they will never have the opportunity to do this, and Saul is the one who will clean and empty the gas chamber for the next group of people to be killed.

Saul’s individuality comes through when a young boy is pulled from the gas chamber and is not yet dead, but expires soon after. Saul treats the boy as if he were his son, and furiously begins looking for a rabbi to help him give him a proper burial, casting all caution aside and risking being spotted as disruptive and killed to give this anonymous boy some symbolic closure. This notion contrasts greatly with Saul’s assigned role in the camp, one that seems inconceivable and impossible, since standing up and refusing to assist in such activities would have meant immediate execution, and therefore he or those like him would not have lived on to tell the story.

“Son of Saul” captures the sheer horrors of the Holocaust that have been presented in literature and previous films, and it ranks as one of the more effective fictional narratives written for the big screen. What sets it apart is that it begins inside Auschwitz, never permitting Saul any true backstory, with only a few muttered comments by him and others about his life before to give him any context aside from his unimaginable circumstances. Hungary’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film is a difficult, at times unbearable film, one that represents a serious and enormously effective tribute to so many victims of the Holocaust.


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