Viktor Frankl’s experience in Auschwitz informed his psychological theory about finding meaning in life, however brutal its conditions. In László Nemes’s Son of Saul a burial ritual gives meaning to a prisoner who is unjustly complicit in genocide. Saul, a Hungarian Jew, is part of the Sonderkommando, a unit of prisoners tasked with helping the Nazis dispose of other prisoners, by lying to men, women, and children about a shower and a meal before they’re led into a gas chamber. When Saul spots the body of a boy not thrown into the furnace, he becomes fixated on getting the boy a Jewish burial. Saul’s obsession snowballs into a series of increasingly reckless acts, overlapping with a revolt by the Sonderkommando, a preemptive measure, since the Nazis regularly liquidated these units. Kinetic and austere, Son of Saul feels like a nightmare. We hear screams and gunshots, we glimpse terror. But, to emphasize myopia, Son of Saul only focuses on the foreground, the background is usually blurred. Much of the movie is made up of fast-faced tracking shots, with death usually around the corner. The dialogue is sparse and economical. There’s no music to guide us, no voiceover to explain the absurd. C’est la guerre.
In Hungarian & Yiddish & German & Polish.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White