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Grimly intense yet thoroughly rewarding, Son of Saul offers an unforgettable viewing experience -- and establishes director László Nemes as a talent to watch.
All Critics (220)
| Top Critics (45)
| Fresh (210)
| Rotten (10)
It's hard to overpraise Son of Saul. It is one of the greatest films ever made.
Nemes, in his first feature, is a bold, experimental voice with a clear vision -- a filmmaker to watch and study for years to come.
Formally riveting, emotionally shattering, and astonishingly confident.
Brutal and brilliant, "Son of Saul" may be the most harrowing film ever made about the Holocaust, which should give you an idea of how hard it is to watch.
An appalling, overwhelming descent into the heart of the Holocaust.
A harrowing immersion into the lives of a lesser-known caste of prisoners in the camps. The film's ultimate message, however, is a puzzle.
Beyond hope and fear, it's a story where there are no miracles, no resolution and no-one survives. It's unforgettable.
It's not literally filmed in a single take or real-time, but Nemes' storytelling mastery approximates that sensibility as we follow Saul through his haunting sensory journey.
It's expectedly an awful time at the movies, but also an important and problematic work that can't be dismissed.
I'm not sure there are many of you strong enough to even read about it without getting teary.
Son of Saul employs the formal mechanics of filmmaking to turn [its] ... questions back in on and around themselves, doing what cinema does best in the hands of great filmmakers: showing by not showing, telling by not telling.
There are sights here that will never be erased from memory, and nor should they be, but there are also moments when hope and decency shine from the screen.
A good portrayal of the Holocaust only let down by the lead actor, who shows no emotions at all, even after discovering the dead body of his son.
Even though it is a true lesson in technique and direction, it deserved to have a more interesting protagonist with better motivations. Full review on filmotrope. com
Given the theme, Son of Saul is understandably difficult to watch. In many ways it should be. The plot doesn't follow the traditional narrative that highlights an improbable hero. Its hyper-realistic style addresses the murder directly head on with no relief to alleviate the terror. The brutal efficiency with which the Nazis oversee this evil task is a robotic death camp of mind numbing savagery. A seemingly unending hell on earth from which human life is disposed like a mechanized chore. Even watching prisoners scrub the human blood from the floor of an massive shower can be an overwhelming experience.
Son of Saul is largely a compelling drama. Where the chronicle doesn't near a masterpiece lies in the conclusion. The fact that Saul and his fellow workers' days are numbered will inspire questions as the story wears on. Why submit to a ghastly task that only prolongs your inevitable death by days? Some abatement from their chamber of horrors is suggested but Saul's behavior becomes vexing for viewer. Setting up a brilliant beginning also demands a skillful ending. Son of Saul doesn't quite deliver at the same level all the way through, but it is still a very powerful film nonetheless.
SCREAMS AND WHISPERS - My Review of SON OF SAUL (5 Stars)
Staggering and unforgettable, SON OF SAUL takes a subject many feel has been played out and sees it through the fresh eyes of a first-time filmmaker with a burning passion to tell a story. What director László Nemes, his co-writer, Clara Royer, cinematographer Mátyás Erdély, and their star, Géza Röhrig, have done is provide an entirely visceral, emotionally credible experience devoid of maudlin speechifying and shameless pandering. Premiering in competition (unheard of for a first-time director) at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and winning 4 awards, SON OF SAUL marks the arrival of a stunning new voice in cinema.
Röhrig, as Saul, is the epitome of the Walking Dead. A Hungarian Jew working the death factories at Aushwitz, Saul, like so many of the Sonderkommando, is forced to bring his fellow prisoners into the gas chambers, steal their valuables for his captors, and dispose of the dead's ashes or bodies. In a lesser film, Saul would have corny moments where he would talk about the injustice of it all. Here, in the hands of a clear master, Saul hardly ever speaks. He just does...relentlessly. His soul, what's left of it, shines through in Röhrig's eyes. While on detail, he notices a dead young boy and claims it is his own. This may or may not be true, but in this hellscape, Saul makes it his mission to give this boy a proper burial. He finds a purpose in a world seemingly without it. In doing so, Saul comes alive.
It's a deceptively simple story, but what makes SON OF SAUL unique is how it's presented. The camera stays tight on Saul for most of the film. While either in front of or behind our main character, everything else appears in shallow focus. The horrors of the camp happen just offscreen or we're given quick glimpses. There are times where you have to work a little to figure out what's happening. It's completely intentional, since Saul doesn't seem to understand it all either. With very little dialogue, he bounces from task to task, narrowly surviving some close calls. Prisoners and guards alike speak to each other with a dehumanizing intensity. Corpses are referred to as pieces, and clearly as a survival tactic, Jews speak to each other with a complete lack of empathy. It's survival of the fittest, and anyone else is dead weight.
One critic has referred to this film as HOLOCAUST: THE VIDEO GAME, an insulting comparison I'll agree with only in the sense that SON OF SAUL has impact, intensity, and profound forward motion. Additionally, the sound design, credited to Tamás Zányi , with sound editing by Tamás Székely, puts most blockbusters to shame. This is an intuitive, frightening, credible use of sound to truly put the viewer in this situation. Without a score, we hear different languages, screams, whispers, factory noises, and sometimes a hideous silence, all of which add up to a complete world. We may never know what it was actually like for those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, but SON OF SAUL rings the truest for me. This is a prime example of the symbiotic relationship between a director, cinematographer and star, all of whom seem to be in perfect sync with each other. It's claustrophobic and numbing, and why shouldn't it be?
While Saul traverses the camp looking for a Rabbi and tools to complete his mission, an uprising plot springs forth from Saul's fellow prisoners. Many may find this element of the film to be underwritten and tough to decipher. I'm among them, especially during a visit to a women's unit. The filmmakers definitely don't like to spoon-feed their audience. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. What occurs becomes pretty clear by the end, and you're left with a stunning final act which blends sentimentality with its polar opposite in an almost wordless, heartbreaking yet life-affirming fashion. Nemes could have so easily given us the Tom Joad, "I'll Be There" speech, but instead he allows so much to be said with this convergence of violence, hopelessness, and one of the wryest smiles in cinema history. You won't soon forget SON OF SAUL, nor should you.
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