MOVIE REVIEW: “Son of Saul” (And You Thought “The Revenant” Was Tough)

People keep asking me if The Revenant is really that violent. YES, The Revenant is rough, but it isn’t the most violent movie I’ve seen this year. In fact, I thought Beasts of No Nation was far more disturbing, and covered my eyes AND ears to escape the onscreen violence. I thought it’d be years before I sat through anything that unnerving again, but then came Son of Saul.

This Hungarian picture is about the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz during World War II. These prisoners were forced to clean out the gas chambers after they were used for executions, but it usually wasn’t long before they were executed as well. Saul is a member of the Sonderkommando. He keeps his head down and tries not to see the bodies of the dead, until he recognizes a face among them. After that, his only wish is to have a proper burial for the body, even if it interrupts plans for a secret rebellion.

Laszlo Nemes directs Son of Saul, and he keeps the camera focused on his star’s face. Geza Rohrig, a Hungarian poet who now teaches Kindergarten in the Bronx, plays Saul. He has a Sad-Clown, almost expressionless face that tears your heart out. The camera stays so tightly on him that it’s initially frustrating. Once you realize what’s happening around Saul, you’re grateful that there’s not a clearer view. The fuzzy, brutal images and muted screams don’t ease the violence of Son of Saul in any way. If anything, it becomes inescapable.

Son of Saul and has already won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Motion Picture. It has also been nominated for an Oscar, so there’s no question if it’s GOOD. Yes, Son of Saul is excellent, but you won’t enjoy watching it. This film captures a moment of exquisite agony in our history, and even though it’s fiction, the events surrounding it are true. It shows us the horrors of our world with staggering clarity, even it they are a little blurred around the edges. Son of Saul is a stunning achievement, but prepare yourself because it’s also very difficult to sit through. (A)
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