Son of Saul

Son of Saul ★★★★★

TIFF15 Film #1

Reason for Pick – Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner

Hungarian director László Nemes inaugural film captures not only the Grand Jury, but also the François Chalais Award, FIPRESCI Prize, and Vulcain Prize for the Technical Artist, and it’s not hard to see why.

A concentration camp film, but set from the perspective of Saul, a Jewish conscripted ‘special keeper of secrets’ worker, of which there are shockingly many. An event triggers Saul, who knows his time is limited, to devote his remaining life to one act of simple dignity.

When I say the film is from Saul’s perspective, it is not simply narratively, as there is precious little narrative, I rather mean that the camera ‘becomes’ Saul, following and framing him in tight composure. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély uses shallow depth of field combined with the intimate framing that reveals the atrocities that Saul deals with day in and day out as a blur. The director never sacrifices the film to constantly maintain this perspective, and does use cutaways to other characters, and the occasional long shot when required.

Although there is dialogue, the emotional impact of the film is conveyed in Géza Röhrig’s, playing the titular Saul, eyes. His ‘expression acting’ is one of the finest near silent performances I’ve ever seen, and up there with the likes of Maria Falconetti’s Joan of Arc.

Son of Saul may be one of the one of the finest films to deal with the Holocaust, and that’s a considerable achievement. It’s positively heartbreaking, but it’s a must see.

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