Son of Saul (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 17, 2016 by Dennis Amith
“Son of Saul” manages to be one of the most horrific, grim films on the genocide which I found to be disturbing, thought-provoking and had left me feeling unsettled days after watching it. Knowing that the film is quite powerful and yet it felt real and troubling. I think many will feel that way watching this film, but at the same time feeling of how well-made this film was, thanks to the direction of Laszlo Nemese and the powerful acting performance by Géza Röhrig. Overall, “Son of Saul” is a film that is most deserving of the awards it had but it’s not an easy film to watch. But it’s no doubt an impressive debut for filmmaker Laszlo Nemes and a film that I do recommend!
Image courtesy of © 2015 Lagkoon Film Group. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Son of Saul
YEAR OF FILM: 2015
DURATION: 107 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 Aspect Ratio, Hungarian 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (Disturbing Violent Content and Some Graphic Nudity)
RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2016
Directed by Laszlo Nemes
Written by Laszlo Nemes, Clara Royer
Produced by Gabor Rajna, Gabor Sipos
Executive Producer: Judit Stalter
Associate Producer: Robert Vamos
Line Producer: Krisztina Pinter
Music by Laszlo Melis
Cinematography by Matyas Erdely
Edited by Matthieu Taponier
Casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij
Production Design by Laszlo Rajk
Art Direction by Hedvig Kiraly
Set Decoration by Dorka Kiss, Judit Varga
Costume Design by Edit Szucs
Geza Rohrig as Saul Auslander
Levente Molnar as Abraham Warszawski
Urs Rechn as Oberkapo Biederman
Todd Charmont as Bearded Prisoner
Marcin Czarnik as Feigenbaum
Sandor Zsoter as Dr. Miklos Nyiszli
October 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis. While working, Saul discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child’s body, find a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial.
From director Laszlo Nemes comes his Academy Award and Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winning film, “Son of Saul”.
As the film is set for release on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, the film would star Géza Röhrig (“Eszmelet”), Levente Molnar (“Morgen”), Urs Rechn (“Eight Miles high”, “Aufrecht stehen”), Todd Charmont (“The Last of the Mohicans”, “Anatomy 2”, “We Are Young. We Are Strong.”).
The film has received critical acclaim but also controversy as the film took on the topic of the Sonderkommando (German Nazi death camp prisoners forced to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during the Holocaust).
With a debate that Sonderkommandos participated in the death of their own, facts over the decades have shown that the death camp prisoners (who were primarily Jewish) were forced into the position under the threat of death. They were not given advance notice of their tasks, they could not refuse or resign other than by committing suicide. It’s important to note that there have been confusion by people of the Sonderkommandos duty, confusing them with SS-Sonderkommandos and also with the Kapos (prisoners assigned by the SS guards to supervise force labor or carry out administrative tasks in the camp, these were also victims, but given different privileges and who were brutal towards their own people).
And it was a topic which director Laszlo Nemes wanted to take on and there were immediate struggles as financiers were not wanting to invest in a film developed by a first time director and the film’s unconventional approach. So, the film was produced entirely in Hungary.
“Son of Saul” is set in October 1944 and would focus on Sonderkommando Saul Auslander (portrayed by Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The film begins with many Jews having their clothes removed and Saul and other Sonderkommandos assisting them and escorting them into a chamber. For many of the people, they do not know that the chamber is a gas chamber.
And once that group of people are killed, the Sonderkommandos must clean all the blood on the floors and stack the bodies in preparation for a new group that will be killed.
But Saul hears a boy coughing. He carries the boy in hopes to get him some help but he dies. Because the boy lived for a short while, he is designated for autopsy and for Saul, because the boy did not die with the others, he wants the boy to be properly buried and to be administered by a rabbi who can give him a proper Jewish burial.
So Saul takes the boy as his own son and pleads to the prison doctor, also forced to work in the camp, Miklos (portrayed by Sandor Zsoter) to not perform the autopsy and give him a proper burial.
While Miklos is not sure how to make that happen, as he is being watched, he tries to buy some time for Saul.
Meanwhile, another member of the Sonderkommando, Abraham (potrayed by Levente Molnar) has heard that there will be a rebellion against the SS-guards with Oberkapo Biedermann (portrayed by Urs Rechn). Abraham supports the uprising, while Biedermann wants to see photographs secretly taken of the camp’s atrocities and to smuggle the pictures outside in order to attract attention.
While working with another prisoner at the camp, which has a camera inside, Saul finds out from his friend Yankl (portrayed by Attila Fritz) that there is a rabbi in another Sonderkommando unit named Apikoyres.
This leads Saul to find a way to find the rabbi who can perform the Jewish ritual on the boys corpse.
“Son of Saul” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1). In order to create the look of the film, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely wanted to take on and shoot on 35 mm film in Budafok, Budapest. A 40 mm lens and the Academy aspect ratio of 1:37:1 was utilized in order to showcase shallow focus and portrait-like narrow field of vision.
So, while there are images of immense tragedy that can be seen on the edges, because the focus is on the primary character in the center, the edges are purposely blurred as intended.
But overall picture quality shows amazing detail during closeups. Skin tones are natural, black levels are nice and deep. The film looks fantastic in HD!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for the lossless audio, “Son of Saul” is presented in Hungarian 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Also, with an English – Audio Description Track Dolby Surround.
The lossless audio for “Son of Saul” features crystal clear dialogue but utilizes the surround channels very well when it comes to the environment and overall ambiance. You can hear gun shots, metal doors closing for the crematoria, screams of people being killed and sounds that can be quite unnerving.
“Son of Saul” comes with the following special features:
- Feature Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Laszlo Nemes, actor Géza Röhrig and cinematographer Matyas Erdely.
- Deleted Scene: Return from the River – (2:06) A deleted scene from “Son of Saul”.
- Q&A at the Museum of Tolerance – (1:03:27) A Q&A with director Laszlo Nemes, actor Géza Röhrig and cinematographer Matyas Erdely.
- Theatrical Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Son of Saul”.
“Son of Saul” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet code.
Having watched many films and documentaries about the extermination camps during World War II, I have to admit that I was completely unnerved by the shocking images shown in “Son of Saul”.
It’s a film that filmmaker Laszlo Nemes did all his best to convey the horrors that took place in the extermination camps and also the duties of the Sonderkommando. How they were powerless, how they could not even alert other prisoners that the corridor they were entering is a gas chamber that would kill them within minutes.
These are not the only horrors as we see countless people getting shot and killed point blank range and the film shows a reminder of how tragic, how horrifying and how terrible the moments were for the people and also for the film’s protagonist, Saul Auslander.
There is no denying that the horrors that Saul must undergo and the hellish conditions that he must contend with are intensely grim. As a viewer, you know immediately that there is no happy ending for Saul and other Sonderkommandos. Not many of them survived, many were replaced by incoming prisoners and they were killed.
But for Laszlo Nemes’ story, one man doesn’t care so much of what happens to himself, he cares that one dead boy, who was breathing after everyone else had died in the gas chamber, is not operated on. That this boy receives a proper burial by a Jewish rabbi.
And that is the goal for Saul as he does whatever he can to find that rabbi, but in order to do that, the viewer will be taken through a horrific journey and see if he will be successful to get the deceased boy a proper burial.
The film is unique and for the viewer, the horrific journey of Saul will no doubt be remembered and a film that no doubt will make viewers feel unnerved. Through the horrors, you want to root for Saul, who will do whatever is necessary to give the boy a proper burial by defying all odds, but at the same time, defying even those who try to help him.
Because Saul is a man who has seen so much death. He knows his chances of survival is slim, so if he can do one thing with purpose for good, he will do what he can to achieve it. And that is what captivates the viewer, in seeing the intricate and complex dealings in order for him to accomplish his goals.
As for the Blu-ray release, I found that it was a wise decision to go with the 35 mm and 40 mm lens, to limit the focus on the center, typically on Saul but not so much being overloaded with death all around him. And as picture quality is amazing in HD, the lossless soundtrack is no doubt haunting. From the screams of the prisoners dying, the shots that go off as a prisoner is shot in the head point-blank, the sounds of the gas chamber closing, the muffling of sounds of screams. Once again, this film is unnerving not just visually but also through its use of audio.
There are a few special features include, with the commentary and Q&A giving us an in-depth perspective of Laszlo Nemes’ filmmaking and his approach of making “The Son of Saul”.
While the 2001 Tim Blake Nelson film “The Grey Zone” showed viewers the life of the Sonderkommandos, it took a film to a different direction compared to “Son of Saul”.
“Son of Saul” manages to be one of the most horrific, grim films on the genocide which I found to be disturbing, thought-provoking and had left me feeling unsettled days after watching it. Knowing that the film is quite powerful and yet it felt real and troubling. I think many will feel that way watching this film, but at the same time feeling of how well-made this film was, thanks to the direction of Laszlo Nemese and the powerful acting performance by Géza Röhrig.
Overall, “Son of Saul” is a film that is most deserving of the awards it had but it’s not an easy film to watch. But it’s no doubt an impressive debut for filmmaker Laszlo Nemes and a film that I do recommend!
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