‘Saul’ offers disquieting, but necessary window into Holocaust

Posted by Chip Chandler - Digital Content Producer on
Geza Rohrig stars in “Son of Saul"
Sony Pictures Classics

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

“Son of Saul,” the unsettlingly direct Oscar-winning film opening here Friday, offers a view into the Holocaust that I’ve never quite seen before.

In director Laszlo Nemes’ first film, the viewer is thrust immediately into a nightmare as we meet Auschwitz-Birkenau inmate Saul (a riveting Geza Rohrig), part of a squad of inmates (the Sonderkommando) who force their fellow captives into the gas chambers. That buys the squad another few months to live – probably less, because the war is rapidly coming to an end and the mass executions are coming more and more quickly.

Tim Blake Nelson’s 2001 film “The Grey Zone” also examined the Sonderkommando, to mixed results, but we otherwise don’t often see the gas chambers dramatized, perhaps because doing so might somehow blunt the impact of that nigh unspeakable evil.

Nemes’ film doesn’t focus long on the chambers themselves, but instead what happens when one young boy doesn’t die immediately and is pulled out and given to a doctor to examine. This is not a happy outcome: The child is immediately killed, an act witnessed by Saul, who becomes determined to secure a proper Jewish burial for the boy, whom he (probably mistakenly) identifies as his own son.

It’s safe to say that the boy’s death was probably the final act that finally snapped Saul’s fragile psyche, and he seeks at last some measure of redemption by undertaking this Sisyphean task.

The audience is almost a co-conspirator thanks to Nemes’ decision to film the movie almost exclusively from Saul’s point of view, keeping him in the center of the frame, largely in close up. It’s claustrophobic – appropriately so – and gives a disquieting you-are-there feel to the film.

As you can probably guess, “Saul” is unrelentingly grim and certainly not easy to watch. So why should you? Because of Nemes’ fresh, vigorous take on an oft-told tale, for one thing, an approach that was rewarded with Hungary’s first-ever Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

The immediacy, though it keeps most of the horrific sights relegated to blurry margins, makes the horror even more stomach-churning than ever – a necessary reminder of what man is capable of.


“Son of Saul” is rated R for disturbing violent content, and some graphic nudity. It opens Friday at Premiere Cinemas Westgate Mall 6, 7701 W. Interstate 40.