Time Out says
Both disturbing and dazzling, this debut features plunges us into the belly of the beast at Auschwitz.
Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes makes a stunning feature debut with this Auschwitz-set drama transpiring over 24 hours in 1944 and almost chaining itself to its lead character (so closely do we stick to his shoulder). He is Saul (Géza Röhrig), a member of the Sonderkommando—the unit of mostly Jewish prisoners forced to assist their captors with mass execution.
Wisely suggesting that there’s nothing particularly special or heroic about Saul, whose blank expression suggests his soul has long since been crushed, Nemes’s camera seems to find him accidentally as the film begins: Saul wanders from the distance into sharp focus like a moth to a flame. From there, Nemes launches into a frenetic journey around the camp, more interested in portraying a sense of disturbing chaos than in making the facts of his story clear. During the time we spend with Saul as he works emptying the gas chambers, he becomes convinced that a dead child is his son and is determined to find a rabbi among the captives to help give the boy a proper burial.
This is cinema at its most grueling, dealing with events that perhaps no images can ever fully convey, not least in scenes set around the ovens that incinerate human remains. But Son of Saul always feels alive to such debate, and it thrusts you into the heart of the argument. It’s impossible not to see Son of Saul as a corrective to past stories that have imposed a neat order (or worse) on such incomprehensible events. Nemes makes us think of the Holocaust afresh by sticking close to the experience of one disturbed soul among thousands.
Cast and crew