Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Son of Saul (orig Saul Fia) [2015]

MPAA (R)  Chicago Tribune (4 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CinEuropa.org listing
Port.hu listing*

FilmHu (R. Győr-Nádai) review*
Jewish Journal (N. Pfefferman) review
NY Jewish Week (G. Robinson ) review
CinEuropa.org (D. LaPorta) review

APUM.com (A. Sáez) review*
aVoir-aLire.fr (G. Lauradour) review*

CNS/USCCB () review
Chicago Tribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Eye For Film (A. Wilkenson) review
Sight & Sound (N. James) review

Jewish Journal (N. Pfefferman) conversation w. film's makers / Auschwitz survivor

Son of Saul [2015] (orig. Saul Fia) [IMDb] [CEu] [Pt.hu]*(directed and cowritten written by László Nemes [IMDb] [CEu] [Pt.hu]* along with Clara Royer [IMDb] [CEu] [Pt.hu]*) is a Hungarian Holocaust-themed film that's been nominated for and certainly would deserve to win the award for the Best Foreign Language Picture at the Oscars this year.

Evoking the focused / closed even claustrophobic aesthetics of Soviet GULAG survivor Alexander Solzhenitzin's [wikip] A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich [GR] [WCat] [Amzn], the current story focuses on "a day in the life of" a single Hungarian Jewish prisoner, Saul Ausländer (played magnificently by Géza Röhrig [IMDb] [CEu] [Pt.hu]*) at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp in late-1944.

Saul is _both_ UTTERLY RANDOM _and_ "RANDOMLY SPECIAL": A big blood red "X" on the back of his black-and-grey prisoner's uniform, marks that he's been "passed over" [cf. Ex 12:7] at least temporarily from immediate death.  Instead along with a squad of other _randomly_ "chosen" Jewish prisoners, he's been given the Mephistophelian "job" of rapidly "processing" (removing) the bodies / belongings of the far-less "lucky" recently arrived / gassed Jewish prisoners, prisoners who were arriving, day-and-night, 24/7, by the train-load, in the last months of the Camp's operation ... OFTEN FROM HUNGARY. 

Now on this random day, "a day like any other day" ... in AUSCHWITZ ..., something happens that's somewhat remarkable.  As Saul and his fellow "X-marked" Sonderncommandos (special unit of prisoners) enter the chamber of recently gassed Jewish arrivals to remove the bodies and hose-down / scrub the walls / floors of the blood / excrement left by the said utterly desperate / terrified arrivals in the last moments of their lives, to their amazement they find among the bodies (who the Nazi overseers simply called "stücke" or "pieces") a boy, perhaps 12-13, still weakly gasping / breathing.

Briefly "lucky", the Nazis quickly dispatch the boy ANYWAY (by suffocating him) BUT order that he be "autopsied" AND Saul gets it in his head that this boy, 12-13 when he died, COULD HAVE BEEN HIS SON.  He runs around trying to grab at the id-papers left among the rapidly being processed / removed / disposed-of belongings of those who had died in the chamber with the boy trying to rapidly ascertain if they had arrived from Hungary.  AND he asks the doctor, also a Jewish prisoner, assigned to do the Nazi autopsy, if he could "hide" the body of the boy, if for a while, because he would like to bury it.

The doctor, perhaps even slightly sympathetic but (like the others) mostly in a depressive / zombie-like "zone", tells Saul that he'd have to replace the boy's body with another boy's body and that it'd almost certainly be "found-out" in some way.  After all, that 12-13 year-old boy had again been "slightly special" in some way ... he survived _at least A LITTLE BIT LONGER_ the effects of the Zyclon-B gas that KILLED the rest, while ANOTHER 12-13 year-old boy who simply died of the gas would NO LONGER be (ever so slightly) "special."

Nevertheless, Saul spends much of the remaining day IN THE MIDST of his "regular work" (helping to remove the bodies / belongings of OTHER recently arrived / gassed Jewish prisoners) to (1) find a Rabbi to perform the Kaddish (the Jewish burial rite) for the boy, THIS BOY and (2) if he got the Rabbi and took him to the boy, presumably to quickly find the body of _some other dead boy_ to replace _this one_ so that he could bury him.

In the midst of Saul's little self-initiated mission (in the midst of the HELL of Auschwitz...), amidst rumors that the Nazis were soon going to "cull" / kill a good number of the current Sonderncommandoes (to replace them with new ones), the current ones were planning a desperate uprising / escape.  Among them, about 70, they were able, in one way other other, to get a hold of seven (!) guns.  But who could shoot them?  Apparently SAUL was one of the better prospects.  But now he's "distracted" by his "little mission" to bury this little 12-13 year-old boy.

And in the midst of trying to get the only rabbi that he knows (one of the other Sonderncommandoes) to the body of the boy, while each is being ordered about, quite randomly but forcefully by ever-about SS guards, while others are trying to mount this desperate uprising / escape against said guards, THE AWFUL BANGING / FIRES / MACHINERY of the INDUSTRIAL OPERATION that AUSCHWITZ was RELENTLESSLY BANGING ON ... and ON ... and ON.

Much of this film -- thankfully only about 90 minutes long -- becomes about Saul (and the other prisoners) trying to make at least SOME KIND OF A STAND against the HORROR _BANGING_ all around them: Does one FIGHT?  Or at least try to "bury the kid"?  DO _EITHER_ MAKE ANY SENSE?

One gets the sense that MANY of these prisoners KNEW that their actions MATTERED but also FEARED (perhaps rightly) that their actions / "options" ALSO _DIDN'T MATTER AT ALL_.

They were both _random_ and at least temporarily "randomly special" and the TRAINS KEPT COMING and the OVENS KEPT BURNING and they had but seven guns and even LESS people who could use them.  DID IT MATTER / WHAT COULD POSSIBLY MATTER in the face of this HORROR?

One heck of a film.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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