One of the two undisputed masterpieces I saw at this year’s TIFF ’15. The first was “The Danish Girl” as I’ve already written, and the second is the Hungarian “Son of Saul.” “Son of Saul” is certainly one of the greatest, grimmest films ever done on the Holocaust, and may be considered one of the greatest films ever made. And it’s heading straight to the Oscars. If Sony Pictures Classics has anything to do with it. And as unlikely a Best Picture winner ever, it just may contend there, it’s greatness and power is not to be denied.
Best Foreign Film is the category where it most likely would dominate and is certainly eligible there. Hungary is submitting this as its’ official Oscar entry. But “Son of Saul” is so overwhelming a cinematic achievement that it may compete in many, many categories. Including Best Director for first time filmmaker Lazslo Nemes.
When the first public screening unspooled at TIFF, it was shown in the very large(and with a balcony) TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. The buzz was so strong and the lines were so long (It had already won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes) that the lines circled back and back on itself. And everything was running twenty to thirty minutes behind schedule that day at TIFF. And as I stood there scrunched in with the hundreds of festival goers jammed into this seemingly endless line, curling back and back on itself and hardly being contained in two floors, and it extended like a snake outside the building ,too. I thought I’d never get in. The wait was excruciating and I thought this was strangely an odd premonition of what I was going to experience in seeing in “Son of Saul.”
The expectations were quite high and “Son of Saul” lived up to and surpassed all of them.
When you are in the presence of a great film, it just grabs you by the collar, throws you on the floor and doesn’t let go til the final horrific, inevitable denouement.
It’s set in the Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration camp. And at the beginning of the film, it seemed that the screen was totally out of focus. There seemed to be people running through a wood, and just when you thought you should yell “Focus!”, into a very sharp focus indeed came the face of Saul, and the hand-held camera was to stay tightly focus on actor Gaza Rohrig for the rest of this unrelenting film.
And everything behind him is indeed a blur as shown in the picture above.^
It’s as though everything Saul is seeing and experiencing is so horrible, so unspeakable, he can’t say anything. He can just blankly stare ahead of him, as he gets pushed from one disgusting concentration camp duty the next. And at break-neck speed too. For Saul is one of the Jewish Sodocommandant as they were so grandly labeled. Large, muscular men whose lives were spared, so that they could do the unspeakable acts of cleaning, and piling “the pieces” and digging mass graves and well, the story of what Saul sees out of the corners of his eyes is very well known by now. But “Son of Saul” makes it all new and is in vivid color, bringing home the horror of the bloody bodies and smoke that makes “Schindler’s List” look pallid and cerebral by comparison.
“Son of Saul” is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen and New Yorkers will have the opportunity to see it soon to. It’s playing at the NYFF. Don’t miss it. You can’t miss it.