Son of Saul gives us an inside view of what took place in Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the German concentration camps during WWII. Not previously known perhaps by many of us were work units called Sonderkommandos made up primarily of German Jews who were commanded on threat of death to dispose of bodies and clean up the gas chambers, only to postpone their own deaths. Saul is in one of these units and has become rather inured to the ghastliness until he comes upon a boy who survived the gas chamber, but was put to death by a Nazi doctor and scheduled for an autopsy. For some reason—Saul doesn’t actually have a son—Saul identifies the boy as his son and tries desperately throughout the film to find a rabbi and perform a proper burial for him.
The camp is much more chaotic than I had imagined it, with hundreds of people being herded to the chambers, or seemingly milling around, the Nazis barking out instructions, and the Sonderkommandos always on hand to do their bidding. The kommandos have huge red X’s on their backs to identify them.
The plot of the film is not very well outlined, and although it is clear that some of the kommandos are planning some kind of uprising, the viewer is expected to infer the details. Saul manages to earn their scorn and endanger them as well as himself in his mission to attend to a proper burial for his “son.”
Geza Rohrig as Saul is commendable in his portrayal of a troubled soul who happens upon something that will assuage his guilt and hopelessness. The camera remains focused on his image throughout, and his expressions convey to us what is going on in his mind.
I can appreciate the single-mindedness of co-writer (with Clara Royer) and director Laszlo Nemes with which he approached this story. It will be appreciated by those with a keen interest in the Holocaust, but may be too dense a slog for many viewers.
A film that gives a close-up picture of one of the Nazi death camps.
Grade: C+ By Donna R. Copeland