As with every Holocaust film, Son of Saul will stir complaints that cinema is too trivial to encompass such profound evil. But there’s nothing trivial about this Hungarian masterwork from first-time director László Nemes. You don’t merely witness horror, you feel it in your bones.
Nemes keeps his camera tightly focused on Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig), a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz. Saul temporarily escapes the ovens by serving with the Sonderkommando, Jews coerced to help execute other Jews and dispose of the bodies. We see only what Saul sees, the more heinous acts blurred in the background, but all the more terrifying for that.
Tension surges when Saul finds a boy who has survived the gas. When the boy dies, Saul makes it his impossible goal to provide a Jewish burial. Is the boy Saul’s own son? Or symbolic of a greater loss?
All you need to know is in the haunted eyes of Röhrig, whose raw and riveting performance deserves superlatives. Nemes is tackling a subject of enormous complexity. The result is, quite simply, a great film.