Son of Saul ★★★½

This raw, visceral Holocaust drama begins and ends brilliantly, on opposite ends of the confrontation versus abstraction spectrum: the lengthy first scene quite accurately dramatizes the daily procedure of the Sonderkommando (Jews who were given work duty) assigned to empty and clean out the gas chambers at Auschwitz while never leaving Géza Röhrig's face (not quite his point of view a la the beginning of Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but very close), keeping the atrocities that surround him out of focus in a way that demonstrates even more strongly than the actor himself how much a complete numbness has taken over. And at the finale, the inevitable crushing of the famous 1944 Sonderkommando Revolt is judged so inevitable that there is no need to show it to us; think of the second murder in Hitchcock's Frenzy. In between, there is a not-always-assured attempt at spinning the impeccable accuracy and harrowing tragedy of the setting into something more personalized -- Röhrig's Saul sees a dying boy, who isn't immediately killed by the gas like most victims, and believes the may be his illegitimate son, then spends much of the rest of the film attempting to locate a Rabbi so that he can properly bury him. This has the effect both of rather ingeniously laying out the nearly insurmountable impossibility of any sort of normal activity within status as a prisoner at the death camps, but also of making the whole story feel uncomfortably like a series of video game quests, not least because the semi-POV gimmick sticks for so much of the film, Röhrig's face nearly always at the dead-center of every composition even as the camera flails around wildly. Still, László Nemes manages to find a new way of exploring well-mined dramatic territory here, and the production values are astonishing, the moment and its devastation incredibly vivid; the choice to slightly muddle up chronology and depict the creation of the only existing death camp photographs is one of the highlights.