Friday, 12 January 2018

I've Just Seen: Son of Saul (Saul fia) (2015)

Director: Laszlo Nemes

There are so many films about the Holocaust that you would think that all aspects of its existence had been covered, in all possible ways. Yet Nemes' film touches on a perspective I didn't know about: sonderkommandos, Jewish prisoners who were forced to clear the gas chambers after they were used. Naturally this is a grim subject yet Nemes has compassion for his characters, and takes us into their morally awful situation.

The most remarkable aspect of the film is they way it is shot. Using the tight framing of Academy ratio, and shot on actual film, the audience spends almost all the film with main character Saul as he goes about his soul-crushing work. His perspective is ours, with many shots filmed over Saul's shoulder. Action often happens just off-screen, and the background is frequently out of focus. We see intimately the emotions move across Saul's face as he believes he has found his son among the dead and tries to find a rabbi to perform burial rites over the body.

The film's references to the violence we all know took place is quietly presented, almost matter-of-factly; we watch Saul looking through piles of bodies, but because of our limited view, we only realise after we look a little harder. The shock is not in-your-face, but none the less harrowing as a result.

This is an impressive film which manages to say something new about the Holocaust. It is a moving film, though an extremely difficult watch (as it should be).

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