The Son of Saul film is on for the next week and a half at the fantastic DCA cinema*. I saw it last night in the cozy Cinema 2.
I encourage you to see it if you can. Its an extraordinary film.
The director, László Nemes, combining some clever directorial decisions, manages to pull of the very difficult feat of communicating the horror of the holocaust without showing explicit violence.
The film focuses almost entirely on the face of the main Actor, Hungarian writer Géza Röhrig.
His pallid, almost expressionless face shows very subtle hints of the pain he is experiencing as he is forced to participate in the violence of this terrible event in human history.
The horror is all around, yet it’s on the periphery, a blur.
The work seems almost mundane, with the Sonderkommando following orders like automatons, moving bodies, discarding clothes. Routinely standing stock still, taking off their hats and lowering their heads whenever they come in contact with a Nazi soldier.
Nemes uses long takes without cuts, so you are carried around with Saul in this desperately awful environment. Sometimes seeing his face, sometimes over his shoulder. All the while pulling you into the scene, feeling his disorientation and paradoxically, his determination.
The use of sound and silence is very powerful. All around, we hear the shouts of the Guards and Sonderkommando barking commands. The voice of the guards promising hot soup and coffee after the ‘shower’ is chilling in its normality. We hear the terror of steel doors clanging shut as forlorn fists pound and we hear the horror of rising screams as the Jews inside realise what is happening to them.
The mundanity of this efficient production line of mass murder is very disturbing.
In one scene Saul is teased for being in the wrong place as one of a group of Nazi soldiers dances round him. Reminiscent of a school playground scene of bullying, it is grotesque in its familiarity. How close to this abuse is the kind of violence and brutality that enabled the holocaust.
I have shared a very disturbing article from the New Statesman recently which questioned the seeds and soil that enabled Hitlers rise. Rowan Williams article starts with Burke’s oft quoted phrase: “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” which he says lets us off the hook. Puts the evil ‘out there’ when in fact it is partly in here (in me/us) as the movie Son of Saul shows so clearly.
Williams argues that “What is necessary for the triumph of evil is that the ground should have been thoroughly prepared by countless small or not-so-small acts of petty malice, unthinking prejudice and collusion.” And that we must mobilise intelligently, which “demands being willing to ask what habits and assumptions, as well as what chances and conditions, have made possible the risk of evil triumphing. And that leads us into deep waters, to a recognition of how what we tolerate or ignore or underestimate opens the way for disaster, the ways in which we are at least half-consciously complicit.”
If you can make it, you must watch this movie.
This film was recommended to me by Alice Black, DCA’s Head of Cinema, as one of the best films she has seen in a long time.
*Declaring an interest: I’m on the Board of DCA