Son of Saul Blu-ray Review
As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors (my mother’s parents), I always approach a film that deals with that time with some trepidation. It’s sometimes hard to appreciate the quality of a film when in the back of your mind you’re wondering if your grandmother or grandfather had to endure all of the brutalities shown. And it was with that same trepidation that I previewed SON OF SAUL.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the film tells the story of Saul (Rohrig), a prisoner in a Nazi concentration trap. Saul is a “Sonderkommando,” which means he is kept alive to do the camp’s dirty work. It is Saul and his fellow prisoners that greet the trainloads of Jews that are deposited at the front gate. They calm the masses by telling them that they have been sent to the camp to work…that they will be well cared for and that, after they shower, they will have hot soup. Of course, after the people strip and enter the “shower” area, they are closed in and gassed to death. The sounds of pounding and screaming coming through the walls is heartbreaking.
Another part of Saul’s job is to clear away the bodies and get the chamber ready for the next group. While moving bodies Saul discovers that a young boy is still breathing. He calls for a doctor who quickly examines the boy and then, heartlessly, suffocates him. He directs Saul to take him to the camp hospital, where Saul knows the boy will be dissected before his body is cremated. The doctor that Saul brings the boy to is also a Jew and Saul begs him not to desecrate the boy. He tells the doctor that the boy is his son and he wants to give him a proper burial. The doctor takes pity but cannot make any promises. “I am a prisoner just like you,” he tells Saul.
As the film progresses we follow Saul as he constantly risks his own life in trying to find an eternal peace for his “son.” He even allows himself to be drafted into a camp resistance group which plans on overthrowing the Nazis, hoping to find a rabbi to bless the body. It is the brave, desperate actions of a brave and desperate man. A man who won’t stop until he knows the boy has been buried properly, with his body and his soul intact.
The film is well cast, with Rohrig only revealing his pain and anguish through his eyes, his thin and gaunt face set in a permanent frown. He takes chances only a father would take to protect his child. The story is told in an almost documentary style, with director Nemes shooting the film mostly with handheld cameras. Whether inside the “showers” or searching through a crowd this permits the viewer to immerse themselves into the story, to feel the same anguish Saul feels. And the love. For there is no greater love than a father for his son.
Video: Presented in a 1.39:1 aspect ratio, the film has an almost gray overtone to it. The images are clear but the mood is gloomy.
Audio: The soundtrack is in Hungarian and delivered in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1. The film is subtitled.
Audio Commentary: Writer/Director László Nemes, Star Géza Röhrig, and Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély team up for a very insightful look at not only the filmmaking process but the themes of the film.
Deleted Scene (2:05): “Return from the River”
Q&A at the Museum of Tolerance (1:03:27): The same trio from the commentary take part in a Q&A with Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival Director Hilary Helstein.