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  • We simply don't deserve László Nemes, the first-time writer/director of Hungary's submission for the Oscar's Foreign Language category, "Son of Saul." Nemes vacuums everything we think we know about filmmaking and the Holocaust, and gives it a raw, intense, and fresh outlook that we haven't seen since Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," perhaps even Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Not to mention, he is thoroughly aided and indebted to the stunning and remarkable talent of Géza Röhrig, in his feature debut. The two simply dance circles around other films and performances seen in this year, with an authentic and genuine approach to art, that we just don't get to experience too often. I'm in awe.

    "Son of Saul" tells the story of Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners isolated from the camp and forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large- scale extermination. In October 1944, Saul discovers the corpse of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkomando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task.

    Its direction like Nemes that should make the world very optimistic about the future of cinema. If we have filmmakers like him, getting in the trenches of history and the human spirit, and beckoning its awakening into our souls, we should be so lucky to have him display the beauty and evil of the world in such a provocative and engaging manner. His choices in which to shoot the film, and portray one of the most heinous acts in the history of our existence is just downright scintillating. "Son of Saul" plays as if we're watching a disturbing, noxious, and depraved home movie about a time in which we never want to see. From a near first-person perspective, we enter the revolting world of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He uses out of focus camera work, to not bath in the bloodshed, but wallow in the psyche of a man, that is desperate for purpose. It's the single best direction of the year. I'd go so far to say this could be the single best direction seen this decade. His script, along with co- writer Clara Royer, is so painstakingly simple but echoes decades of oppression in its short, respectful run time.

    Don't call him a "poet by profession" because newcomer Géza Röhrig doesn't believe in the word profession. There's only artists. Géza Röhrig is an artist, of which I haven't seen in some time. With little words, he says countless and devastating things about what he's feeling and what we know about ourselves. He doesn't use cheap tricks to engage the audiences like "really intense face" or "really scared moving." Röhrig displays the numb, almost disengaged weight of the world in every physical and vocal movement he chooses to exhibit. It's a flawless, masterful performance that we need more of in this cinematic world.

    Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély is your next great craftsman to watch, even though making his mark on films like "The Quiet Ones" and "Miss Bala." He frames close-ups that Danny Cohen himself, would hope to achieve in his next collaboration with Tom Hooper. He stays with a person, a scene, a moment, so intelligently, and so vibrantly, he places each one of us in the rooms, full of fear, and full of hopelessness. The subtle yet effective music by László Melis is sonorous but the Sound team is what really needs their praise. Tamás Dévényi (Production Soundmixer), Tamás Székely (Sound Editor), and Tamás Zányi (Sound Designer) create monstrous and dynamic effects that essentially become its own focal point of the story. We are listening intently, desperately, and just fearful at every nick, boom, and cry we come in contact with. It's something everyone should and will notice and applaud.

    "Son of Saul" sneaks up on you. It's too important and critical to our cinematic landscape to overlooked or forgotten. I can't imagine a more dour and sullen experience this year that fills my heart with this much adoration. It stands toe-to-toe with most Holocaust films created in and before my lifetime. It may be the definitive one this millennium.
  • You cannot take the Holocaust lightly in film. Some have tried, but it fails. László Nemes' Son of Saul takes the Holocaust very seriously. Instead of recounting it in a sombre documentary-esque way such as Schindler's List or even the gut-wrenching approach Alain Resnais takes to Night and Fog, we are utterly present in its unpredictable and relentless horror. While most Holocaust films struggle between their representation of order and chaos, often deciding to switch between the two when necessary, Son of Saul finds the ideal balance, showing these small shards of order within the chaos. The most fascinating idea of its premise is to show the prisoners appointed with the tasks of guiding victims into the gas chambers, organising their belongings and then cleaning up after them. It's a well oiled and melancholic cog, while we know every hard effort to scrub and pull is in vain as their eventual death is only postponed and not evaded.

    Saul, played by first-timer and established poet Géza Röhrig, is one of those Sonderkommando prisoners forced to work towards the Final Solution. Our narrative follows him for only two days, but that's all we need to know to get a gruelling snapshot of his minute-to-minute struggles. When a boy nearly survives the gas but is pronounced dead shortly after, Saul recognises him – at least on some level, as it's never clear if the boy is his kin or not, but it is apparent he never took care of his own when he had the chance – and takes him as his son. To himself, he insists on giving his son a clandestine burial which must be officiated by a rabbi. Salvaging the body, locating a rabbi and performing even a small burial is near impossible despite them being in essentially a mass graveyard. Meanwhile, his peers are plotting an escape along with destroying the crematorium and will require Saul's help. However, he cannot assist both futile missions simultaneously.

    The film has an incredibly unique approach to the concentration camps. Shot on a tightly framed 35mm hand-held camera, the photography is almost always focused on Saul, leaving the atrocities offscreen or out of focus, but often vividly audible. If there is any complaint, it's that the editing suffers from its long-take construction, but the sound design is an absolute masterclass. Saul's face remains stoic but Röhrig soaks it all in, leaving his mournful expression to interpretation. While he's apparently numb, he's always fully invested in the moment. No scene is quite as hard-hitting as when we watch Saul listen to the screams of people dying in the chambers while he waits outside their doors. It's his one break from being forced to work, and he'll immediately have to remove bodies when it's finished. The way the film builds these routines are very intimate and exhausting and despite being a fictionalised story, it feels very real. Those rituals of removals and cleaning are contrasted with the Jewish rituals that guide their faith, and especially Saul's burial plan.

    But beyond the intense yet ambiguous horrors that show the cruellest side of humanity there's ever been in the modern world – despite us never getting close to a Nazi beside brief encounters – the film finds its emotional core in small gestures of compassion. Nobody is required to help Saul, especially in knowing the dangers involved, but there's an unspoken bond between every prisoner to help one another regardless. When he finds the rabbi who agrees to perform the service, it's not powerful because they've been stripped down and Nazis are murdering new arrivals around them – nothing compares to the experience of this scene – it's powerful because the rabbi says yes in spite of that. If they can redeem one shred of morality, it is a small victory and triumph of faith. Saul never lets go of that idea, even when he risks sabotaging the escape mission inadvertently. His mission to bury his son becomes increasingly arbitrary, but never without redemptive merit on a grand scale.

    This is an astounding debut film for László Nemes on every level. Even a seasoned visionary director would struggle in such a precise execution. Having worked for the excellent Hungarian director Béla Tarr, his influence is clearly felt here. Tarr also uses long shots and utilises impassive protagonists but Nemes' work is much more dense, engaging, and arguably accessible in its own way but mostly for the immediate empathy the situation earns. While it matches Tarr's poetry, it's a lot more theatrically dramatic. Every one of the supporting cast is on a razor's edge though they never outshine the constantly pushed, pulled, and shoved Röhrig. He need not step in front of the camera again after this soon to be iconic accomplishment. The film's power is immobilising and thoroughly unforgiving, but with good reason. Son of Saul, with its immaculate production, attention to detail, and own noble mission, is not only one of the best of the year but one of the best of the decade. Despite its small scope, it dwarfs every other film on offer this year.


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  • Warning: Spoilers
    Movies about the Shoah (or Holocaust) cannot be solely discussed on the same grounds as other movies e.g. plot, acting, direction, camera, settings, etc. They raise questions about history, remembrance and ethics.

    Some persons debate the fact that Shoah CAN be filmed and, if the answer is positive, HOW it should be filmed. A "bad" movie (in terms of plot, acting, etc.) about Shoah is not just tedious, it could be considered as a lack of respect to the victims and survivors of camps and ghettos, as well as to their families. Even a "good" movie that inaccurately depicts Shoah could be considered as a lack of respect. For instance, director Claude Lanzmann (documentaries "Shoah", "Sobibor", etc.) strongly rejected "Schindler's List" even though in pure cinematographic terms it is compelling. For information the same Lanzmann approved of "Son of Saul".

    However these two questions (can and how) mainly result from a more fundamental question: WHY film Shoah? The most obvious answer is history and remembrance. But then why not only film documentaries (above-mentioned Lanzmann, "Night and Fog" by Resnais, etc.) and write books (Primo Levi, Semprun, etc.)? Do we really need filmed fiction about Shoah?

    The strength about fiction is it can convey more emotion, but that is also its danger: can any emotion render the absolute horror? Are we not fooled by our empathy when maybe there is no possible empathy? Of course the distinction between documentary and fiction is not so clear-cut, since documentaries use artistic features (editing, commentary, sometimes music, etc.), while fictions can be filmed as documentaries. This is where "Son of Saul" comes in and I apologise for this long, but I think necessary, introduction.

    First, we cannot classify this movie as a mere "Description of a day in Auschwitz" or a "Movie where Shoah is a secondary element", but fundamentally as a movie about Shoah, by its ambition, its clear historical references and its intensity. I will not detail the plot, this is available elsewhere. For those of you who have not seen it, it is a very violent, disturbing movie (rated R in the US but I would not recommend it to anybody below 17 even accompanied by an adult).

    "Son of Saul" avoids the pitfall of voyeurism by focusing on the main character, Saul, and mainly showing what he sees. The dead bodies are mostly blurred, the cries are mostly distant. However this radical precept which is carried throughout all the movie (except for the last few minutes) almost constitutes a second-degree voyeurism where the director constantly seems to affirm "Look how I avoid showing you fully what is happening".

    Hence this strength of subjective view almost becomes a weakness as we empathise with Saul, notably his desire to bury what he thinks is his son, but less with other characters, even when his quest jeopardises the rebellion project. We do see to some extent how prisoners survive and die in the camp, but as a background to Saul's obsessive idea. Is the dead boy really his son? Is the rabbi really a rabbi or does he just want Saul's protection? Where is the body? Will they manage to bury it? So in a way the fiction of Saul blurs the documentary dimension of Auschwitz.

    In most regards, "Son of Saul" is historically accurate: the inhumane conditions, the constant struggle, the fights between prisoners, the role of the Kapos, the barbaric SS, the bargains, etc. As a side note, it also convincingly reconstitutes the way one of the authentic and very rare pictures from Auschwitz could have been taken by insiders (the pile of bodies outside).

    However actual conditions were certainly even more dramatic than those depicted: in general prisoners were much thinner and weaker, their clothes were dirty rags, their morale was very low, every moment was a tragedy. Also some elements cannot be shown easily: how do you film hunger, cold, pain, illness, despair? Can we blame the movie for not showing the full extent of the horror? I am not sure, because it might actually not be possible and even if it were, it would barely be watchable.

    It is difficult to rate such a movie. Should we rate a movie about Shoah? Considering the artists take the responsibility of making and showing it and hence of being exposed to criticism, probably we may, if we are careful enough to distinguish between aesthetics and ethics.

    For its audacity and cinematographic qualities "Son of Saul" probably rates 8 or 9/10: direction and acting are outstanding. For what we could call the "Shoah ethics" that I tried to describe in the introduction, I think it rates 6/10: a poignant but debatable attempt. Again, I am not sure any fiction could do much better. This is a personal point of view and I fully understand some persons were compelled and would rate it 10/10, or that others reject the movie with a 1/10. It really depends how one's own feelings react to such extreme images and artistic vision.
  • I do not understand how the previous commentators were able to add their opinion, since I saw the very first screening of the movie outside Cannes in the Művész arts cinema of Budapest tonight, on May 29, 2015.

    The movie was followed by a discussion and Q&A session with the artists.

    Director Nemes aimed to create a movie that is deprived of the post-war artifacts present in most Holocaust movies.

    For this goal, he and his staff made substantial historical research to make the smallest details truthful. The shooting took place from less than $2 million, in a very short period (28 days). French, Israeli and German investors did not give money for the movie for fear of a loss.

    As the director mentioned, a movie of this length is spliced together form 300 to 700 cuts these days. Theirs required only 80. You are in the camp, you are Saul Auslander. There is utter confusion, you do not know what awaits you in the next second. This is a reality movie with no happy ending that shakes you.
  • This movie starts completely out of focus - literally. The viewer sees only vague shapes moving around. Is this a technical error or an experiment gone wrong? Nothing of the kind. After a while, the face of lead character Saul Auslander moves close to the camera - and into focus.

    And it stays this way. In the first few minutes, the camera stays within a range of 50 centimeters from Saul's face. Or I should say: Saul's head - because sometimes we see only the side or the back of his head.

    The effect of this style of filming is no less than spectacular. All kinds of things are happening around Saul. Horrible things, we soon learn. But we never get to see them close by. We only see shapes, out of focus, at the extreme fringes of the screen, and we hear the sounds. And we keep seeing his face, in focus. He moves around, works, does things, and all the while all we see is his face.

    Soon we understand where he is: in a Nazi concentration camp. Saul belongs to a Sonderkommando, a group of Jews who are temporarily spared from death to do the labour the Germans don't want to do. In the midst of the terrible atrocities, it becomes his mission to bury a boy he believes is his son.

    This film is unique in showing the concentration camp for what is is: hell on earth. Naked dead bodies being dragged around, desperate people being shot indiscriminately, complete absence of anything humanity stands for. It is exactly this total loss of dignity that drives Saul in his hopeless quest for a way to organize a proper burial for the dead boy.

    Son of Saul is the complete antithesis of that other monumental Holocaust movie: Schindler's List. While Spielberg's film is made according to all the rules of good film making, Son of Saul is a claustrophobic trip, without any possible concession to commercial appeal. The dialogue is often hardly comprehensible, spoken in three languages, sometimes not louder than a whisper. Not all the acts and events are quite clear, and only after a while you understand what exactly drives Saul.

    This is a unique, hard-hitting movie experience. When you go see it, don't expect a well-rounded story with heroes and villains and a nice ending. But expect to be swept away.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After the news about the movie's success in Cannes, there was a lot of conversation about whether we need "yet another" movie about the Holocaust. Still, as I watched the movie, I have realized that the main subject of it is not the Holocaust itself, but rather the human and his choices between morality and necessities, between family and strangers, between dead and alive. And, this is that makes this movie a perfect 10 for me: the painfully precise reconstruction of the mass murder and the almost PoV-esque, brutally relivable presentation of Auschwitz's everyday is just the beginning, just the setting. Still, I cannot overemphasize it that the reconstruction feels so realistic thanks to the filming style (the viewer remains so close to Saul, the protagonist, that almost smells him), the acting (that is, basically showing empty shells of seemingly living people in most of the movie) and the details (people using myriad of languages, mainly Yiddish to communicate, for example).

    So, if Holocaust is just the setting, what is it really about then? It reminded me of a Greek drama with a protagonist, who has big choices with tragic consequences, with very clear dilemmas. With a big difference that you cannot hope of a divine intervention at the end – although as a viewer, I can understand if somebody hopes that some kind of happy ending will close the movie, after all, some kind of (even unreal) hope makes the members of the Sonderkommando alive as well.

    If you see a "Holocaust movie", you end up wondering about how this could happen (and why is it happening again and again). In Saul's Son, you will be haunted by the pictures of the killings and by the partly banal practicalities related of it, but the main question will be: what would have YOU done, not as a Jew, but as someone who is on the blurry borderline between victims and collaborators, as a parent, as a comrade… as a HUMAN?

    … and that makes it way more than "just" a (quite revolutionary) Holocaust movie for me.

    Recommended for anyone who feels like 110 minutes of pain (it is, really, painful to watch) is worth to have an experience of visiting some dark edges of our humanity.
  • renateinfrance8 November 2015
    Warning: Spoilers
    The first 30, 40 minutes of the movie are absolutely brilliant and moving. What a great idea to focus on one man and keep all the atrocities vague. It is no problem to fill in all the gaps yourself. Great sounds. But later on in the movie it gets difficult to still understand the protagonist. Maybe he is really getting crazy - which I would understand - like another reviewer states. But his way of doing gets annoying at a certain point. Also some scenes are not very clear. At the end, Saul started to irritate me. Jeopardizing the lives of others.

    My main problem with this movie is: it is a movie, not a documentary. The immensity of the Holocaust can't function as a laissez-passer for a weak script.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I am really torn by Son of Saul (Saul Fia). It's a technical and acting achievement, to be sure. It doesn't feel like a first film. So bravo to László Nemes for pulling it off. And the film achieves what it sets out to do. So using my own criteria of what makes a good film, I should be giving it a higher score. But I can't. In the end, what was it? It was a decent into madness. It was a "ride" film, that pulled its protagonist and us along for some dramatic moments in Auschwitz, 1944.

    Let's get the technical achievement kudos out there first. This movie was shot on 35mm in Academy Aperture. It is shot almost entirely in close-up, on the head of the protagonist, with most action occurring in his (and our) peripheral vision, out of focus. The effect is obvious. When he is pushed or pulled, so are we. We are right there, next to his head, seeing everything, and also sometimes looking away.

    Direction - outstanding. Nemes gets great performances out of his actors. He sets and maintains the tone. He did a fine job. Hollywood would destroy this movie. They would give us wide angle establishing shots and dramatic prisoner monologues. Not here. This is a corner of a huge prison, with just a few locations, and most dialogue is in whispers. A network of whispers. The research is apparent. I was reminded by several survivor accounts of Auschwitz watching this.

    Géza Röhrig has an amazing face. I imagine him getting the part simply by showing up to his audition and starting at the director. He is incredible. But so is the story, and that's where this film lost me.

    ** Strong spoilers ahead **

    This movie is about a condemned man who has lost his humanity. Everyone has. However, in a most desperate attempt to do something humane, as a final mission, he commits himself to the insane task of burying a young boy who miraculously survived the gas chamber, but was fished off by a Nazi doctor. It might be his bastard son. But we will never know. The boy's death triggers his overwhelming motivation in this film. But, as one would suppose, his mission fails, step by tragic step. He is unable to bury the boy within 24 hours as directed by Jewish law. He believes he needs a rabbi to assist him in the burial, to say the kaddish as the boy is put into a hole. He risks getting shot multiple times in his quest for rabbi, and gets several of the his fellow prisoners killed in the process. He has a second mission given to him, but he fails it in pursuit of his personal mission. "You have betrayed the living for the dead," his closest fellow Soderkommando tells him.

    While critics praise the film for it's humanity, I didn't see it. The story is about insanity. What a man will do when he goes insane. At that point, it becomes clear that he will reach a dead end and be shot trying to bury the boy somewhere on the prison grounds.

    But no. In the second half, the movie becomes a "ride." Think Gravity, but in a death camp. I was impressed by the second night sequence in this film. It's small, in terms of what went into the production, but it feels massive. It's one set piece after another. Our Sonderkommando is pushed and pulled into various locations; from speaking to a Nazi commander, to pushing coal for the crematorium, to obtaining inside information about his imminent execution, to being saved by one or more prisoners or prisoner-kappos (think wranglers of prisoners by prisoners). At this point, he and we are passengers, seeing events that really took place (not necessarily in the same month of 1944). The close calls are amazing, but also, somewhat unbelievable. He intercepts a line of new arrivals being shot and burned, and is nearly shot. He makes the cut of Sonderkommandos to be spared, but in thrust into a rebellion by the survivors. Then, he becomes one of the few prisoners to ever escape into the Polish woods outside the camp, and still manages to re- locate and carry the boy's body, now wrapped in a sack. At that point, I had to give-up on this movie. We all know how this ends. He wouldn't be able to dig a hole on the prison grounds. But now the film is going to give us that scene outside the prison. Incredible, and not in a good way.

    And so, in the end, I had to give this a thumbs down. We cannot allow ourselves to avoid criticizing films due to their subject matter. The Killing Fields sucked. And, the more I think about it, so did this. We need to preserve history. But we need to be able to question why a Hungarian director's decisions.
  • Few movies have affected me on such a deep and emotional level like Son of Saul. I walked into the theater having no idea what the subject matter was, or read any reviews, so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I witnessed was one of the most difficult and trying pieces about the Holocaust, and a bond between father and son during the most horrific circumstances.

    By now, many of you have read about the unique style and focus of the film. Shot in 35mm, each shot does not fill the screen. There is only one focal point throughout the film, which means people and objects that are close to the camera are in focus, and everything in the background remains out of focus (except for a few shots where we do not center on Saul). This unique and somewhat unprofessional style is an absolute benefit to the overall story that unfolds before the audience. I was sometimes glad that you couldn't see some of the horrors that were happening all around the main character, but you can tell very plainly what's happening.

    The story is actually a short one, it takes place in only about a day and a half, but the content of this story is what makes it stand out so brilliantly. Most films about the genocide of the Jewish race during the holocaust have a very broad perspective, showing multiple events to various people who were living through one of the worst horrors man has ever inflicted upon man. Usually these films, like "Schindler's List" focus on some savior and the survivors of such events, or even worse movies like "Heart's War" which fictionalizes a history that is almost insulting to watch. Son of Saul is a much more personal and heart-wrenching story of one prisoner who works under a Sonderkommando labour groups within the walls of Auschwitz Birkenau. There is a definition of such groups at the beginning of the film, and it tells very plainly what their duties were, under threat of death.

    It is very difficult, or rather naught and impossible, to comprehend the level of horror prisoners had to live through during the extermination of their own race, but that is where this film is most successful. It achieved something that I very rarely experience during a film. This is when I cease to remember that I am at the cinema watching a movie unfold before me, and for quite some time, believe that I am right there, bearing witness to these events. That is the true goal of cinema I believe. To have the viewer in complete empathy with what is happening to the characters as the movie progresses. And I was completely and utterly entranced.

    This film is not for the faint of heart. It is horrifying and unbearable at times, but is absolutely unique and utterly phenomenal to watch. A fantastic first for both director László Nemes and lead Géza Röhrig.

  • GialloUncharted28 January 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    I start by saying that I didn't read anything about "Son of Saul" before going to the theater, and that I didn't know whether it had received bad or good comments.

    "Son of Saul" is not entirely bad and I think it's worth to see it, but it looks to me out of focus. I'm aware that the documentary - first person point of view is what the director wanted to give us, but I don't like it. Everything is so shaky, the hat of Saul is always cut and the background is blurred. I don't think that this setting adds up something to the movie.

    What is more important: I consider that the story is out of focus. There is realism - what the prisoners were told to be reassured in the undressing rooms (hot tea - hot coffee - hot soup waiting for them, disinfection, remember what's the number of your hook), the differences between people and their social background, with a lot of languages and a bad German used as a lingua franca, the dehumanization of the prisoners that obviously can't handle that kind of monstrosities, the word used for the corpses, that is "stucke", pieces, and the enormous rush required to the Nazi guards in order to be able to "process" (that's the term they used) all the people daily "resettled" to Auschwitz.

    I saw few days ago the monumental documentary of Claude Lanzmann called Shoah, and I think that the director of "Son of Saul" saw it too, because the "quotes" are a lot.

    But in all this background blurred realism, I can't get the purpose of the main character, that struggles to carry out a task that in my opinion doesn't make sense.

    It looks pretty clear to me that Saul has got no sons, since he had told so to his fellow coworkers, and he has no tears for the poor young kid, but still he feels compelled to give him a proper Jewish burial.

    I understand that in Auschwitz the action of risking one's own life has a completely different meaning than what it does in normal contests, and Saul states that too ("we are already dead"), anyway I still think that this movie is a good chance that has been missed.
  • gsygsy25 November 2015
    This film is an astonishing tour-de-force. I don't recall seeing anything like it before.

    Fictions set in Nazi concentration camps need to be handled very carefully indeed if they are not to diminish, even trivialise, what took place there. Such films are difficult to criticise, because their subject matter is not only historical fact, it is also the ultimate depravity of human beings. Art must deal with it, because nothing can lie outside of art's sphere, but really it is not a fit subject for bad art, such as Spielberg's Schindler's List. With its beautifully-played violin theme and its clever girl-in-the-red-coat in a black-and-white film, Spielberg used the vocabulary of a Hollywood movie to present this profound subject. Nothing that even its very committed actors could do was able to ground the piece in a convincing reality. The result, as far as I was concerned, in spite of what I'm sure were the best of intentions of the director and his team, was little short of repulsive.

    Since seeing Schindler's List I have steered clear of films attempting to depict life in the camps. I haven't seen Life is Beautiful, for example, nor The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. For all I know, they are works of genius. Son of Saul definitely is: not only does it not betray the cruelty, the tragedy of the camps, it brings it home in such a vivid way that it is sometimes extremely difficult to watch. But it is necessary to watch. In fact, it must be watched more than once, because it is not only emotionally draining, it is also amazing technically, but because it sweeps you up in its reality, it is impossible to take in the technical achievements on only one viewing.

    Son of Saul was directed by László Nemes, written by Mr Nemes and Clara Royer, and photographed unnervingly by Mátyás Erdély. Saul himself is incarnated by Géza Röhrig, superbly leading an excellent ensemble.
  • This movie is not taken on lightly as an audience member.

    To classify it as 'entertainment' would certainly be wrong because the subject matter is so uncompromisingly challenging.

    I wanted to love it unreservedly for the bravery of its content but I'm afraid I was left a little cold.

    The film is shot in square format (possibly 4:3) which is immediately disarming and unusual (the last time I saw this was in the very different Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel) and it's used effectively because it gives the viewer a voyeuristic look into the mayhem that is Dachau where the movie is set. It also helps the director from a budgetary point of view because it eschews the need for expensive wide shots.

    The opening scenes are astonishingly harrowing as we see the "pieces" of Jewish bodies essentially processed through the factory of death with disturbing, off screen, dog barks, German soldier orders and mechanical noise. It's brutal and affecting in the extreme.

    In some ways this is what I grotesquely wanted from the movie. I wanted to be horrified like no horror movie could achieve.

    Forgive me for this but it didn't happen. Yes, the mood was grotesque thanks, in particular, to the extraordinary sound design, but on screen I felt it shirked its potential too much.

    In the end this voyeuristic cinematography ultimately becomes both tiresome and limiting.

    The fundamental weakness of the movie, in my opinion, is in the storyline. Frankly it's not that credible and doesn't stack up. The main protagonist (Saul) discovers his (illegitimate?) son as a gas chamber survivor and smuggles him out of the situation to seek a Rabbi to give him a proper Jewish burial.

    This leads to a sequence of events that side stories with an undercover camp breakout in which he is also inexplicably involved.

    Sorry, it's not credible.

    And Géza Röhrig as the lead didn't really do it for me. And so the early wonderment of the movie, it really is very moving, starts to erode and gradually descends into incredibility.

    I love what this movie stands for. I respect every iota of it.

    I just didn't think it was particularly good overall.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    First-time Hungarian director László Nemes has been quoted as saying that he didn't want to make a film like Spielberg's Schindler's List, which he dubbed too "conventional." Nemes insisted on creating a different kind of Holocaust drama, where the emphasis was not on the survivors but on those who perished—pointing out that surviving the Holocaust was an anomalous affair.

    Nemes' protagonist is Saul Ausländer, a native Hungarian, who worked as an Auschwitz Sonderkommando (a group of prisoners given special privileges by the Nazis in exchange for assisting them in the extermination procedures and clean-up duties at the camp). Despite being housed away from the crematoriums and given a few extra meager rations, the Sonderkommandos were marked for death when it was deemed they had completed all the work required of them by the Nazis. After the war, some Sonderkommandos were treated as war criminals and shunned by the survivors.

    Ausländer discovers that one Hungarian boy has survived inside a gas chamber. His life is brief after a Nazi doctor suffocates him and orders an autopsy (to determine why this particular boy had survived). Ausländer insists this boy is his son and arranges to gain possession of the body so he can find a Rabbi to perform a proper burial. Was the boy really his son? At one point, Ausländer states that this was his son from a woman he never married. That kind of statement makes one believe that Ausländer could have been telling the truth. But he could have said that to justify his actions with his fellow inmates—they of course regarded his belief as a delusion and that he was "more interested in the dead than the living." An alternative way of looking at this is that this is how Ausländer could find some measure of redemption inside such a horrific environment—by arranging for the boy to be properly buried, he would be thwarting the Nazis' aim to desecrate the body as well as giving his life some purpose amidst the horror.

    Nemes' technique is to shoot the entire movie close-up from Ausländer's point of view. The camera never pulls back so we can see the "bigger picture." Since everything is shot close-up, we can only catch glimpses of what's happening all around the beleaguered Sonderkommando. We never see the Jewish victims being gassed inside the crematorium. But we can hear their screams and terrifying pounding on the steel door as Ausländer stands right in front of it. Glimpses of the bodies (called "pieces" by the Sonderkommandos) are briefly seen being pulled out of the gas chamber and Ausländer and his associates must clean the blood on the floor so none of the new victims get any wind of what is about to happen to them.

    Nemes' decision to shoot "close-up" has the effect of distancing the audience from the horrors that are not seen directly. In one respect, this distancing effectively makes the horror more palpable—if the audience takes in too many horrifying images, they may become numb to it all. On the other hand it defeats Nemes' purpose which is to emphasize the emotional connection with the audience—we're supposed to be shocked by the inhumanity (not sheltered due to not seeing the "whole picture"). The 1985 Russian film, Come and See, had a similar "distancing" problem— the subject matter concerned the massacre of civilians in Belarus by the Nazis and their collaborators. Unlike Son of Saul, Come and See was shot from a distance, not close-up. But the result was the same: the horror was not horrifying enough.

    The value of films such as Come and See and Son of Saul is that they convey the "atmosphere" of genocide. From a distance, one might perceive the Nazis' actions as a macabre carnival where the perpetrators continually enjoy themselves as they commit repulsive, sadistic acts.

    Nemes also fulfills his promise not to give the wrong impression that the Holocaust was a story of survival. The final, gripping scenes in Son of Saul make it clear that there were virtually no survivors. Ausländer may have found some peace that he was able to save his "son" from desecration, but those whom we were rooting for throughout the narrative, are mowed down by Nazi bullets, the sound of which occur effectively off screen.

    Son of Saul is less effective as a drama due to lack of a singular antagonist. We rarely get to see what the personalities of the perpetrators are like. There is one really telling scene where a Nazi officer mocks Ausländer, dancing around him and speaking in pidgin Yiddish. But for the most part, the Nazis here are faceless entities. It might have been more interesting if their genocidal actions were seen from their point of view.

    Finally, Ausländer's journey is too one-note and repetitious to be effective. We get the idea of what he is trying to do early on—it may be noble but his plan is aimless and ineffectual. Paul Ranier writing in the Christian Science Monitor echoes my sentiments: "Nemes's Saul- centric stylistics grow wearisome after a while, because Saul, blank- faced throughout, never really comes to life as much more than a symbolic martyr."

    Son of Saul is certainly up there with other Holocaust films that depict the horrors from a sensory and auditory perspective. This may be the only way to effectively convey what occurred in the extermination camps. Nonetheless, somehow the human element is missing here—which of course would involve fleshed-out multi-dimensional protagonists and antagonists, and the conflicts cogently enumerated between them.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    While no movie can fully capture the madness of what life in a concentration camp must have been like, Làszlò Nemes' Cannes Grand Prize Award winning Son of Saul, his first feature film, may come close to recreating the experience. Written by the director and Clara Royer and shot in 35mm with a 4:3 aspect by cinematographer Mátyás Erdély ("Miss Bala"), Son of Saul explores the moral dilemma of a group of Hungarian Jews known as the Sonderkommandos who were forced to collaborate with the Germans at Birkenau in exchange for preferential treatment in the way of food and living arrangements, even though the bargain extended their lives for only a few months.

    Set in 1944 only months away from liberation, Géza Röhrig is Saul Auslander, a Sonderkommando, inducted on his arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau under the threat of death and given the task of emptying train loads of new prisoners, telling them lies about fresh coffee and an offer of employment after their shower, then, under the supervision of the SS, shutting the doors and standing to one side, listening to the screaming and crying. Saul's job does not end there, however. He is charged with removing the bodies, referred to as "pieces," from the gas chambers, confiscating any valuables they may have, and incinerating them in outdoor pits.

    With the camera always focused on Saul, breathing down his neck like the Dardenne Brothers' camera in "The Son", he moves around swiftly going from one job to the next showing little outward emotion among the confusion. He stops long enough, however, to witness the body of a young boy still breathing after having survived the gas chamber. He will not remain alive for long, however, as he is quickly smothered by the camp doctor and his body removed for an autopsy. Apparently recognizing the boy and claiming him to be his son, Saul's seeks a Rabbi who will say the prayer for the dead (Kaddish) and give the boy the required burial according to Jewish law and tradition.

    When he is not performing business as usual, Saul's desperate attempt to find a Rabbi takes up much of his time and he is accused by a fellow prisoner of being more concerned with the dead than with the living. Though there is no narration and a minimum of dialogue (spoken in a mix of Hungarian, German, and Yiddish), Saul's expressive face reveals a cauldron of intense emotion, more than any language could hope to reveal. We never learn anything about Saul's background, whether he was married or even had a son, but, in his desire to provide Kaddish for the boy, he is asserting his humanity in the face of barbarism.

    It is a daunting task given the circumstances of the arrival of more victims daily, and the clandestine plans being made for a prisoner rebellion, an extraordinary example of physical resistance but it is Saul's singular act of rebellion that adds a dimension to the suffering that transcends its apparent meaninglessness. Unlike Tim Blake Nelson's 2001 film, "The Grey Zone" which covered similar territory but succumbed to standard Hollywood treatment, Nemes keeps graphic content to a minimum and relies on the viewer's imagination, wisely letting the horrors to be assimilated through suggestion and an intentionally raucous soundtrack. Son of Saul is not an easy film to watch, but it is an important and even a necessary one and, in its own way, both a horrifying and strangely beautiful one. It is a film that should not be missed.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    What an utter failure. About 90% of this movie is spent staring at the back of the main characters head as he navigates Auschwitz. The story line was very one noted and not very clear.

    OK so maybe the camp was accurate including details and all that but how hard is that really to attain? What does it matter anyway if the story isn't interesting.. Essentially it's about a guy that is at the end of his rope and for some reason or another decides that a young boy is his son. He then spends the rest of the movie like Hansel and Gretel searching for a Rabbi. Behind that story is shown some hints about a revolt that is going to take place. That's all.

    I couldn't wait for this movie to be over.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Saul fia" is a Hungarian masterpiece. It presents the holocaust from a very particular point of view. Before, cinema presented this horrible spot of the mankind from a "global" angle. Spielberg's "Schindler's List" for instance takes care basically of the global fate of the people in the death camps. In contrary, "Saul fia" focuses to the individual, hence we see (or we suspect) all the horrible events through the eyes of Saul, a Sonderkommando member. These people (chosen from the Jews) actually do the dirty jobs, the ones which are even worse than the death itself: they have to witness the killing of their own family members and friends, then burn the corps, clean the gas chambers and even shovel the ashes into a river. One can find no words, indeed.

    During the whole film, we are on tenterhooks and one hopes that a salvation shall come for these people. The only "redemption" that Saul found is to bury decently the corps of a young boy, that he recognizes as his own son. Actually the boy survives the gas chamber and he is killed "manually" by some German doctors in front of Saul. No words, again. The desperate search of Saul for a rabbi gives a sort of meaning for his life, which has already been burned together with the others in the fire, even though physically he still lives. Despite the fact that the Sonderkommando members shall be liquidated soon, he keeps looking for a rabbi. Even when there is chance to escape, he doesn't leave the body of the boy behind. Hundreds of thousands are killed, burned and can be left behind, but this boy is special. We shall never know for sure if he was Saul's son, but even dead, he gives an immense power and motivation for Saul.

    Telling this unbelievable story that shows the upper limit of the cruelty of the man and the disregard of the human life, this movie remains a fine masterpiece. László Nemes has profound ideas, the movie showed that he deserved the Grand Prix at Cannes. Géza Röhrig is a very deep person, who can share something more, something personal as a message of the film. The cinematography is amazing, one has the feeling that there are almost no cuts, the camera just follows Saul everywhere. These show also some similarities in my opinion with Iñárritu's "Birdman". This special style has born in the last years and in my opinion it is very interesting to see it independently in different contexts, in two different parts of the world. It is a very-very painful, and a very deep movie. I hope that we shall hear about it also during the next Oscar nominations.
  • "Son of Saul" (2015 release from Hungary; 107 min.) brings the story of a Jewish Hungarian man named Saul. Saul works/is forced to work as a "sondercommando" in one of the German concentration camps (Auschwitz? Birkenau?). As the movie opens, the camera focuses on Saul as he goes from job to job, leading the next wave of Jewish prisoners towards the gas chambers and closer to their death. Then, miraculously, a young boy survives the gassing. A German doctor quickly smothers the life from the boy, and orders an autopsy. Saul, however, wants to provide a proper burial for the boy and desperately seeks to find a rabbi among the Jewish prisoners who can say the 'kaddish' (burial prayers). To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

    Couple of comments: in my life time I have seen quite a few movies that focus on or relate to the WWII concentration camps. I can honestly tell you, though, that "Son of Saul" is a unique film. The primary reason is that (i) the movie is shot in almost 1:1 ration, actually probably more like a 4:3 ratio, and (ii) the camera focuses mostly on Saul, and rarely do we get a full-blown shot of what goes on around him. Not that we don't know, and certainly when you add the outstanding audio-soundtrack, we know all too well that this is living hell, and worse. Bodies are laying about, we hear the furnaces, we feel and recoil as chaos and pure evil unfolds. It all make for a very harrowing movie, but one that is unforgettable. It is often said about the holocaust that we should never forget. Let me tell you: "Son of Saul" will make you never forget. Géza Röhrig in the role of Saul brings an epic performance, with little dialogue, but body language that speaks volumes. I am going to go on record right now that "Son of Saul" will win Best Foreign Language Movie Oscar in early 2016.

    I saw "Son of Saul" during a recent home visit to Belgium. The early evening screening where I saw this at in Antwerp was attended okay but not great. That is a darn shame, but on the other hand, if you are simply looking for a 'good time at the movies', I don't know that I would recommend this, as it's simply not that kind of movie. On the other hand, if you believe in 'important' movies, and on top of that it happens to be a top-notch quality movie, you cannot go wrong with this, be it at the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray. "Son of Saul" is HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Son of Saul" or "Saul fia" is a Hungarian film from last year that won big at Cannes and also took home the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. And in my opinion, the got it wrong again. "ida" was already a pretty weak winner last year and same goes for "Son of Saul". It looks to me as if people are appreciating this film because of the difficult and controversial subject. But this alone should not be enough. A film also has to tell a compelling story and this one does not I think. The film runs for slightly over 100 minutes and most of it, actually everything except the ending, takes place in a concentration camp. Another thing about this movie why it was so successful is that the ending is pretty memorable and dramatic and makes it easy to forget about the boredom from the previous 1.5 hours.

    But I will not. The writer and director here is László Nemes and he is still pretty young, under 40, so we may hear a lot more from him in the future. i cannot say, however, that this film makes me curious about other projects from him. Lead actor is Géza Röhrig and he is completely new to acting it seems. Taking this into account, he did a pretty good job. I have read people say he should have been nominated for an Oscar, but I cannot agree with that. Still, it was a fairly convincing performance and he carried the film nicely from start to finish, given he was in pretty much every scene from start to finish. It is not his fault that the movie did not turn out so well. The problem is one that I just mentioned. Rührig is in every scene and the camera is always extremely close to him. I found this style of direction pretty unappealing, almost annoying at times. You can see the filmmaker's intention to let the audience perceive the action exactly like the protagonist does, but for me it did not work. This was a major turnoff for me here and I may have liked the film better with another approach by Nemes. But I have seen an older short film by him and it seems that he frequently takes this path. All in all, I do not recommend "Son of Saul". The protagonist's story was interesting only on a couple occasions, but not enough for such a long film and in terms of historic context we learn nothing here that we did not already know about concentration camps and WWII history if we have only very basic knowledge. Thumbs down.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The movie is a strong audio-visual and emotional representation of what it was supposed to be like living in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. The senses are bombarded with loud sounds, screams, scenes flash before us, ghastly scenes of pain, suffering, hatred, inhumanity. Saul appears from within that stress of constant nerve-wrecking pressure, death and sorrow, as a flower blooming on a deserted field, with his obsession to fulfil an obligation, a mitzva. Suddenly the entire life that until then seemed so pitiful, impossible and desolate, that was run according to the strict rules and punishments of others, now has a purpose.

    The acting is amazing, that gaze of the eyes of the actor Géza Röhrig playing Saul, the entire expression of all emotions is channeled through those eyes. Those deep dark eyes of his that will haunt me.

    The portrayal of the concentration camp is so painfully "true-to-life" that you are on the verge of wanting to leave and run away.

    And that is one of the strongest qualities of the movie: on one hand, you are on the edge of the chair with the discomfort of experiencing the concentration camp, yet on the other hand, you are hooked on Saul's obsession and you are cheering inside yourself and praying for the completion of the obligation he has set himself.

    I am an amateur in the film industry, a mere fan for over 30 years, but I have rarely been shaken as by this one.

    At the end of the screening at the Sarajevo Film Festival, I looked around to see a full-theatre now almost empty, save for a few shell-shocked individuals like me, not surprisingly including Atom Egoyan. Genocide trauma is handed down through generations and our own exploration of the past.
  • Easily tagged as a Holocaust film (but shouldn't necessarily be), 'Son of Saul' explores the perspective of a Sonderkommando named Saul — a German Nazi death camp prisoner who's job was to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims — who finds a dying boy from the chambers and attempts to give him a proper burial who he claims to be his son, all during his time at Auschwitz. The film is uniquely shot from an over-the-shoulder perspective that keeps the viewer entirely focused on Saul, but still with the motions and actions surrounding him very noticeable (thanks to absolutely brilliant sound work in order to help achieve the eerie feel). 'Saul' reaches certain pinnacles of significant discomfort during scenes of execution — in the gas chambers and the burial pits — and a stone-faced Saul can do nothing but be forced to listen or watch.

    At points, the viewer feels claustrophobic when being ushered from the trucks in the middle of the night to one's fate. While the main story of Saul's attempt to give his "son" a proper Jewish burial is what drives him — already accepting his own fate — the film goes beyond the typical WWII Holocaust story where you might only hear of incidents. In this film, the viewer is thrust upon into the fray of Hell, constantly following Saul through several one-shot takes that leave you wondering what is waiting for him.

    A word to the wise: this film prides itself on authenticity, realism, and truth; 'Son of Saul' is painfully poetic.
  • Because the camera is stuck near the head of Saul the whole time, and most things are out of focus, the film makes you dizzy already after 20 minutes. The film is not really telling anything, just follows a guy who behaves unreasonably. There is nothing explained, you have to fill everything with your own knowledge of the holocaust. That is all what happens, there is nothing concrete in this movie. I am Hungarian, so I was happy one of our films got famous, but it seems that it became true what I was afraid of, it got the Oscar only because it is about the holocaust. therefore it was a big disappointment. Don't waste your time, watch another Hungarian or another holocaust movie depending why did you chose this one.
  • An excellent production depicting the grim reality of Hitler's concentration camps, focusing on the story of Saul, an inmate seeking some return to normal human existence in the context of his horrible life and soon impending death.

    I couldn't help thinking that Saul was nuts (which is true) in his totally futile, and compulsively driven, quest for a return to normalcy in his life. Particularly when this nutty behavior on Saul's part compromised the efforts of the other inmates to deal with their terrible situation in a rational matter that offered some real hope instead of Saul's delusionally and emotionally based actions that were totally empty acts.

    The conflict here is between rational attempts toward success as demonstrated by the other inmates as a group, and Saul's impeding their efforts with his individual selfish and psychotic actions that only provide for his temporary emotional (but no real lasting) fulfillment.

    Not sure why the critics, or anyone else, loved this one.
  • 'Son of Saul' started off with a refreshing burst, but barely a quarter in, it meanders on its own overly self-conscious showiness. It becomes painfully obvious that there's a director and production crew behind it trying too hard to drive the impact and be different, resulting in a showy look-at-me stilted performances from its actors and even the set screams "wow aren't we just realistic and meticulous in our details", like a bratty girl twirling her hula-hoop in a vigorously attention seeking manner.

    The core motivation of Saul in trying to get 'a random son' buried is …… nada. The entire essence of this movie pivots on this core 'motivation'. Without it, there is only the mundane uninteresting idiosyncrasy of Saul - drifting in the sea of all the other equally mundane idiosyncrasies, all of which are equally uninteresting.

    The actors (both the clothed and the naked) are way too healthy and lackadaisically bland in their appearances and attitudes, lacking any anguished sense of desperation and despair. As you watch them and the overly-crafted sets, you can't help but be 'constantly aware' that you are watching actors and extras and movie sets going about their motions as directed.

    Even the constant background chattering sounds consciously deliberate and staged. And the Nazi officers - another bunch of one-dimensional caricatured bullies … same cartoonish-cardboard ones you find in WWII comedies, action genres, dramas, you name it.

    Hence, even after over an hour into the movie, there is no immersion of oneself into the proceedings of the plot nor in the characters.

    The most realistic actors on set are the ones playing the dead bodies, but even then their positioning and the manner in which they are piled and dragged around …. overly choreographed.

    Why did it win the Oscar Best Foreign award? Absolutely no idea - just another no-sense award from Hollywood. Probably it gives the voters a misplaced sense of politically-correct 'artsiness'.

    'Son of Saul' has become an obligatory-must-watch-because-its-won-these-bunch-of-awards. A good compelling movie it is NOT. Vain-glorious, and does not impress beyond its first 5 mins of fame.
  • Son of Saul, set in 1944 Auschwitz, follows the walking head of a prisoner for 107 minutes as the head goes from place to place in the camp. In the background of the images recorded, we see the blurry outlines of corpses, blood and people walking about trying to burn as many bodies as they can. With a minor plot involving the lead trying to find a rabbi to bless the body of his son who is not his son, the movie does its best to give us an idea what it must have been like being a member of Specialcommand in Auschwitz.

    But apart from giving us that idea, the movie offers really nothing else. It could as well have been a 15 minute short and perhaps should have been. After 30 minutes you really get the idea and wish for the film to finally take some direction and to stop sporting only horrible imagery and morally bankrupt circumstances. It never does however, which turns the entirety of it into little more than a brutal test of one's patience. A real shame considering the subject matter it portrays.
  • Not as good as expected. The movie may be artsy but the storyline stinks. It's is not a documentary, but a fictitious story of Saul, a worker at a camp deciding that a dead boy is his son and what he attempts to go through to bury him is thin. Yes, the scenes in the background are horrific, something the artsy types at film schools like. But the movie is slow, limited dialogue, and a lot of long scenes were so long, you can speed things up with fast forward and miss nothing. Basically the movie falls flat and is a waste of time. I give it two stars because the background scenes that depict the horrors from a perspective of Saul are well done. Do not like the shakiness of a hand-held camera that had to track this perspective throughout the movie, or the full screen format, one can overlook those. Overall there are far better movies about this period such as Black List or the Counterfeiters. And if you really want to learn more about this period pick up the book Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl who chronicled his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp. Or Auschwitz: A Doctor's Account by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli who was spared from death because he was personal assistant to Dr. Josef Mengele, known as the infamous "Angel of Death." These are real stories by real people. There huge difference between this type of reality (the books) and a fictitious movie.
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