Movie Review: Son of Saul (2016)

imageOne of the most acclaimed Hungarian films in recent years tells the tale of a father endeavoring to bury his son, but there’s so much more to the story. László Nemes’s chilling you-are-there style Holocaust drama Son of Saul (A-) takes viewers deep into horror and chaos where a heroic dad’s singleminded mission to provide a proper burial for his offspring is complicated by his role as a Jewish prisoner inside a WWII Auschwitz Concentration Camp where he serves as part of the “Sonderkommando” unit that disposes of the dead. Told within stifling quarters over the course of less than two days in 1944, the story is focused on Saul’s leviathan task while he fends off SS-guards and smugglers in his midst as the burial and even overall escape becomes either elusive or imminent. Much falls on the shoulder of lead actor Géza Röhrig, and he is magnificent in a muscular role requiring few words. Nemes’ direction often relies on tight close-ups and sound effects that prompt viewers to fill in an even more terrifying complete picture. Told with the propulsion of near-constant motion, it is an extraordinarily effective glimpse into history. Due to some of the labyrinthine plot details that undergird the narrative, the emotional core occasionally gets short shrift. It is essential viewing in this historical sub-genre and a harrowing, insightful experience.

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