Friday, December 18, 2015

Son of Saul - A very different perspective on a death camp.

The "Son of Saul" is a movie that is just opening which has received very interesting reviews and interviews. I have not seen the movie at this time. Below are some excerpts from articles and podcasts that I have found particularly insightful. As a child/ teenager I knew someone who had been a Sonderkommando - but we never spoke of those experiences.

Here is a comment by Terry Gross: "There's a new Holocaust movie, and let me say right at the start here, I usually try to avoid Holocaust movies. I've read books about the Holocaust. I've seen feature films and documentaries. And at this point, I don't want to go to a theater to watch such unbearable suffering unless it adds to my understanding of the Holocaust or is an exceptionally well-made film. But I went to see the new film "Son Of Saul," and it is an exceptionally well-made film. And it left me with a better understanding of how Auschwitz-Birkenau operated as an extermination factory and of the Jews who the Nazis forced to be the workers in that factory, Jews who were called Sonderkommandos. Their job was getting fellow Jews into the gas chamber, the corpses into the ovens and then disposing of the ashes."

What follows is an extensive interview with the director and main actor of the film (transcript and podcast):

Here are excerpts from reviews and some embedded trailers:

"Good movies summon up worlds. “Son of Saul,” a great movie and a debut feature by László Nemes, summons up a world we may think we know from a visual perspective we’ve never encountered—the willed tunnel vision of a Jewish worker in a Nazi death camp. This point of view is doubly protective. We’re spared the worst of Auschwitz’s horror because the protagonist, a Hungarian named Saul Ausländer (a phenomenal performance by Géza Röhrig), is determined to keep what’s left of his sanity by focusing his gaze, and for a while his mind, on the ground in front of his feet and on whatever tasks may be at hand. His vision broadens only after he comes upon the corpse of a boy he chooses to think of as his son. That’s when he sees a chance to perform a moral act in the midst of the madness, and when Mr. Nemes’s film attains an ineffable beauty.

The storytelling perspective is singular too. We’ve never before learned about a death camp’s workings through two meticulously detailed days in the life of such a man. As a member of the Sonderkommando—Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis in processing the remains of the doomed—Saul is a temporary trusty who will vanish in the ovens like all the other prisoners once his work tour is done. He’s also a target with a red X sewn onto the back of his jacket, lest he try to escape, and the camera often follows him from behind in remarkable tracking shots enhanced by an even more remarkable cacophony of ambient sounds. (The cinematographer was Mátyás Erdély. The sound designer was Tamás Zányi. The screenplay was written by the director with Clara Royer.)"

"The immensity of the Holocaust requires the filmmaker — even one making an eight-hour documentary — to exclude many aspects of the systematic savagery. None has done so more resolutely than Hungary's Lazlo Nemes, director and co-writer of Son of Saul. The grim yet kinetic drama spends all its time at the shoulder of one man, and its only other major character is a corpse."