Son of Saul Movie Review
Son of Saul is a riveting Holocaust movie about a Jewish man’s neck and shoulders as he navigates the chaos of a concentration camp and does everything he can to not help his fellow prisoners escape.
Géza Röhrig plays Saul, a man who has been tasked with guiding his own people into the gas chambers. Emotionally scarred beyond rescue, he seeks spiritual reprieve by attempting to save one dead boy from the flames by giving him a proper Jewish burial, even if it means screwing over everyone else.
The critically acclaimed Hungarian drama from director and co-writer László Nemes paints an understandably bleak picture of Auschwitz. From gas chambers to Nazis to mass executions and then some, Nemes holds nothing back. His depiction of Auschwitz is dark, dirty and disturbing.
Too bad I never cared whether Saul or any other character in the movie lived or died.
As visceral as the movie is, without likeable, relatable or even competent protagonists Son of Saul just doesn’t resonate on an emotional level. Saul is so emotionally separated from reality that many of his actions are irresponsible or downright infuriating, which in turn makes his character impossible to like or even respect.
It doesn’t help that Nemes keeps the camera so close to Saul at all times that it’s hard to tell what is happening half the time. While the filmmaking approach certainly offers an intimate and intense perspective on life inside a concentration camp, it also isn’t very enjoyable watching a close-up of Röhrig’s neck hair for 100 minutes. Coupled with a gimmicky 4:3 viewing ratio, Nemes’ direction singlehandedly makes the story and characters less accessible.
Son of Saul is proof that no matter how much detail is put into a film such as this--and Nemes and his crew do an incredible job of inserting the audience into a living and breathing depiction of Auschwitz--without the right character development, even a gritty holocaust movie can be emotionally distant.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.