Review: Son of Saul

The darkest parts of humanity.

Unlike most Holocaust movies, Son of Saul doesn't go out of its way to show you the horrors; in this Cannes Grand Prix winner directed by László Nemes (making his feature debut), the atrocities pile up in the corners, on the edges, often out-of-focus or, worse, via the film's human score of whispers, screams and gasps. For nearly the entire film the camera is locked onto our protagonist, Saul (Géza Röhrig, a Mark Ruffalo type with kind, serious eyes), a Jewish Hungarian who is on the cleanup crew at Auschwitz—he helps lead his people into the gas chamber, pulls out the bodies to be burned and shovels the ashes into a lake. He finds a boy still breathing and convinces himself the teen was his son and deserves a proper Jewish burial. In the madness and confines of a concentration camp—with a prisoner revolt brewing—he must smuggle the body, find a rabbi and bury the body. Son of Saul never stops moving, revealing the inevitable secret network within the camp, surprise allies and the darkest parts of humanity, here so far gone that its perpetrators perform evil as a kind of theatre. Röhrig is outstanding, stoic under the constant threat of death, driven by feelings he thought had evaporated in him. His final scene is a bittersweet heartbreaker.

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