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Posts tagged ‘Holocaust’

“Son of Saul”s Geza Rohrig Talks Oscar

Son of Saul 3

Unknown Hungarian actor and poet Geza Rohrig has found himself catapulted by the Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner, the excoriating, unforgettable “Son of Saul” into the middle of the Oscar race.
“It’s all very nice,” he says modestly,” But I cannot make these things happen.” But they ARE happening, as Sony Pictures Classics begins to propel “Son of Saul” into all categories including Best Picture, not just Best Foreign Film, and Rohrig into Best Actor.
Part of that propulsion is the unaffected, unassuming Rohrig giving interviews on just that topic and “Son of Saul” in general, in New York’s Sony Building, gayly decorated for Christmas. And guarded like Fort Knox.
The security getting into the upper reaches of the Phillip Johnson designed skyscraper was intense. I had to even show my passport, which they photographed!
But at the top of a winding staircase, festooned with evergreen and red and white Christmas balls sat Geza Rohrig, in a large corporate conference room. He was casually dressed  in a gray T-shirt and jeans, wearing that flattened black cap, he is most often photographed in these days and a several day growth of actor’s stubble. Looking the absolute scruffy antithesis of the corporate Christmas milieu surrounding him.
He seems stunned but pleased and a little overwhelmed by all the awards talk revolving around him.
“But it is very good for the film. I hope it allows more people see it.”
I point out that Hollywood has a recent history, almost a tradition, of awarding previously unknown foreign actors, who give extraordinary performances, with an Oscar. Marion Cotillard with “La Vie En Rose,” Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” and Jean Dujardin in “The Artist.” Last year, Marion Cotillard popped up again in Best Actress for a Belgian film in French “One Day, Two Nights.”
Rohrig smiled when I told him this. It was something I hadn’t seen before. He doesn’t smile much in “Son of Saul.”
There’s no doubt about it. Geza Rohrig has one of the great screen faces. His face, ravaged, sullen, dirty, frightening is front and center in the middle of the screen in a very, very tight close-up for almost every shot in the film. Set in Auschwitz itself, the most notorious and horrifying Nazi death camp of all, we only see what is happening in the edges of the screen.
Except for Rohrig’s astoundingly expressive face, which is IN focus, the periphery is out of focus. It’s as if his character, the Sodocommandant Saul is seeing only what it is necessary for him to see, only what he can glancingly observe, as he is made to do the dirtiest of the Nazi’s dirty work.
At one point, a Nazi commandant complains in German, “We are getting 10,000 more tonight!”
Rohrig estimates that 20,000 Jews were killed per day. “And one in three were Hungarian Jews.”
Rohrig is a Jew himself. He describes himself as “Modern Orthodox,” and Laszlo Nemes, the gifted young Hungarian director is Jewish and this is his first film. Nemes claims it took him a very long time to get “Son of Saul” made.
Says Rohrig, “It was very hard to get the money to make this film. People did not want to give money to the story of a Sodocommandant. It was too controversial. They were the lowest of the low. They were Jews who killed Jews. People did not want to see this. They did not want this story to be told. Sodocommants were just as much victims as the other Jews. They were going to be killed, too. But they were lied to, and told them that this is what they would have to do if they wanted to survive. Of course, every four months they then were killed, too.”
Sodocommandants were the burly, muscular Jews who were kidnapped by the Germans, but saved to do the hard, horrifying labor at the concentration camps, herding the thousands into the gas chambers, locking the doors on the victims, and then taking out the “pieces” as the Nazi described the dead bodies, and putting them in the blazing furnaces.They then had to shovel out the ashes of the dead and dump the ashes in the nearby river.
All of this we see Rohrig’s Saul do, doggedly punched, pushed and pulled literally every step of the way.
But of course, it didn’t save them.
“They were liquidated every four months. I think that we see Saul in his second month there. He is in deep  trauma. He can’t react. He is like a robot.”
It is to Rohrig’s everlasting credit that Saul Auslander (literally Saul the outsider) paints such an indelible portrait of a Sodocommandant, who is still sentient and who is trying desperately to hold on to his sanity as the world around him becomes more and more insane.
He even believes a dying boy from the gas chambers is his son, and goes on a missiion to save the boy’s dead body and give him a proper Jewish burial. He searches the hundreds of daily, new arrivals to see if one of them might be a rabbi.
“He is in hell,” says Rohrig simply.
Rohrig has had a lifetime fascination with Auschwitz. As a young student of 19, at a Hungarian Arts School, he traveled there to see it and then returned to rent a room near Auschwitz and stayed there for a month.
” I went to Auschwitz every day and stayed there all day long. I had to see it. I had to absorb it. It was the end of my childhood. It was the end of my innocence. I learned just what the world was. I saw a pile of children’s shoes…”his voice trailing off. As if unable to explain the impact of the death camp on him as a young man.
It has stayed with him to this day, and it is probably that profound knowledge and the sensibility that drew director Nemes to him for this demanding role of Saul.
Rohrig gives Nemes all the credit. “It is not me. It is him. It is his vision.”
Rohrig read the script and auditioned and was cast in the part, and what changed as they worked on it and tried to raise the money to shoot it, was the radical placement of the camera.
“It was RIGHT HERE,” he says gesturing,”30 inches away from my face. It was THIS close all the time. It was very heavy, all that equipment.It was always following me.”
Nemes’ camerawork captures every glance, every tiny movement of  every muscle in Rohrig’s ravaged face. Sometimes we see it with the back of his head in the shot. Even the back of Rohrig’s head and his hunched hairy shoulders are expressive. And on the back of his dirty clothes is sewn a gigantic yellow Jewish star.
“We have to try to understand how human beings could to this to other human beings. But it is not just the Jews. There are genocides that are happening today. Darfur.Rwanda. It hasn’t changed. I am very pessimistic. There is still evil in the world.”
,
This was the day of the San Bernardino shootings.
“But it is my job, Laszlo and me, to stand up and tell this story over and over and over again. So people don’t forget. But we wanted to tell it differently. From one person’s perspective. It is one day in his life. We just wanted the audience to see what he sees. It is the great thing Laszlo has done with this film. He wanted to put the viewer THERE.”
And Rohrig and Nemes have succeeded mightily. Just that week it won the New York Film Critics Best First Film and the National Board of Review named it the Best Foreign Film. And Oscar is knocking on their door.
“Well, we will see. I go to L.A. soon.(Rohrig currently lives in the Bronx) They should give something to the cinematographer and the sound, too, ” he says perspicaciously. And I agree. For while, you don’t SEE everything, you HEAR it. The sound design and mixing are incredible on “Son of Saul.”
It’s one of the best films of the year. And one of the best holocaust movies every made, and one of the greatest films of all time.

 

National Board of Review Awards?!? WTF….

Mad Max1OK, so “Mad Max: Fury Road” was awarded Best Picture of 2015 by the National Board of Review. A real-head (and knee) slapper, if you ask me. However, TOMORROW we have the New York Film Critics announcing their winners, and I am so sure that “Mad Max:Fury Road” is going to be NOWHERE on their list of winners.

Who will win? Probably “Spotlight” OR maybe the powerful Hungarian film on the Holocaust “Son of Saul.”

The NYFCC realizes, fully, its’ position of the first SERIOUS awards that are being given each year. And this kind-of-up-in-the-air year where there seemed to be a very open field, may suddenly be limited to the coronation of “Spotlight,” a fine film, by a fine director Tom McCarthy and a stellar ensemble cast including last year’s Oscar snubbee Michael Keaton, ably supported by Marc Ruffalo, who has got the best,most emotional part, Rachel McAdams, ‘Mad Men’s John Slattery and Bway’s Brian D’Arcy James.

I liked it A LOT. But for some reason, I didn’t love it. It’s cold. It’s cerebral. It’s about investigative journalism, the type of which has almost gone out the window in this age of Internet Everything.It’s nostalgic for the age when Newspapers ran the world.

It’s set in the past, and it depicts it accurately. Boston in the 1980s. It’s got it down. And the writing, as you’d expect from a film about journalists and journalism, is very, very good. It’s subject is the uncovering, by these dedicated, dogged journos, of a wide-spread cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic Church. So it’s also a shocking film, too.

Neither the Gotham Awards NOR the National Board of Review are made up of press. But of course, the New York Film Critics ARE press, and so a film about journalisms’ finest hour, I think will carry the day tomorrow. Not the ridiculous “Mad Max:Fury Road.” No. That won’t happen again. Even with the Golden Globes, I don’t think so. Even THEY aren’t that silly.

The National Board of Review’s acting winners are another matter entirely. Brie Larson for Best Actress for “Room.” Yes! And I think that will be seconded by the NYFCC tomorrow. This tiny, little, Canadian/Irish, but utterly brilliant film NEEDS their stamp of approval, and I think it will get it here, honoring Larson. She looks like a winner that can’t be stopped. I certainly hope so. She deserves it. Brie Larson 2That role in “Room”of a kidnapped-and-raped-for-seven-years while she was held captive by the rapist, mom, was one of the most difficult an actress ever had to essay. It was a killer.
Matt Damon 1Matt Damon won Best Actor for “The Martian” and I think he will be nominated for the Oscar, too. And since the Golden Globes have put “The Martian” in their Musical/Comedy section, they will have to put Damon in that,too. And he could win that.

So good for Matt, and for Ridley Scott, who won Best Director for “The Martian” and I think the 77 year old Scott is going to be for sure nominated for the Oscar for his direction and his being Oscar-less so far in his long career, I think the Academy is going to award him there, too. He directed “The Gladiator” which won Best Picture, back in the day, but HE didn’t win Best Director. It went to Stephen Soderberg for “Traffic.” “The Martian” was the big winner with three awards. Or four, if you count it’s being listed in the NBR’s Top Ten List.

Who will win Best Actor from the NYFCC tomorrow? Well, there’s a little hint in the National Board’s completely ignoring “The Revenant”. The NYFCC may do the same, and I think they may give it to the astonishing, almost solo performance of Geza Rohrig as Saul in “The Son of Saul.” “Saul” might also get best director for the first time helmer Hungarian Laszlo Nemes. Although, wait a tic.

The NYFCC has a category for “Best First Film” or “Best Debut Director” and that could be Nemes.

Also Best Actor is where Eddie Redmayne could turn up for his transformative, ground-breaking performance as  “The Danish Girl.”

As for Supporting the National Board of Review’s naming of Sylvester Stallone for Best Supp. Actor for “Creed” really does help Stallone get even further into the Oscar conversation in that category for his portrayal of the aging, ailing Rocky Balboa. I think this really means he will get an Oscar nomination. And a Golden Globe nomination, too.

“Creed” is a runaway, unexpected success, and every one wants to get back on to the Rocky nostalgia train, so yes, there’s room in this category and I could certainly see Stallone’s legendary Rocky role muscling his way in. That also won Best Picture way back when, but Stallone as an actor, went un-awarded on the Big Night.

Supporting Actress for Jennifer Jason Leigh for the as yet unseen “Hateful Eight” is an unknown. This could help her. “Hateful Eight” also got a Best Screenplay for Quentin Tarantino, and this means that this Weinstein film, that the NBR saw LAST, is probably better than it looks in trailers. Another snow-bound Western? Really? I mean on top of “The Revenant”?

Well, they left “The Revenant” off their top ten list. “Spotlight” was there, but nowhere else, and also nowhere to be seen, again, was Weinsteins’ other Oscar seeker “Carol.” Which the Gothams also did not award. Though they nominated it, and gave its’ director Todd Haynes a career award.

So as I predicted the NBR, not a press organization, did not prominently award “Spotlight” whereas the Gothams gave it three awards, including Best Picture. So tomorrow with NYFCC, I am fearlessly predicting that “Spotlight,” a very, very good film that holds up journalists as its’ heroes, will shine all over the place.Spotlight2

Here are a lot of what the National Board of Review chose as their winners today.

Best Film:  Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Director:  Ridley Scott – The Martian
Best Actor:  Matt Damon – The Martian
Best Actress: Brie Larson – Room
Best Supporting Actor:  Sylvester Stallone – Creed
Best Supporting Actress:  Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Best Original Screenplay:  Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Best Adapted Screenplay:  Drew Goddard – The Martian
Best Animated Feature:  Inside Out
Breakthrough Performance:  Abraham Attah – Beasts of No Nation & Jacob Tremblay – Room
Best Directorial Debut:  Jonas Carpignano – Mediterranea
Best Foreign Language Film:  Son of Saul
Best Documentary:  Amy
William K. Everson Film History Award:  Cecilia De Mille Presley
Best Ensemble:  The Big Short
Spotlight Award:  Sicario, for Outstanding Collaborative Vision
NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  Beasts of No Nation & Mustang

Top Films
Bridge of Spies
Creed
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Spotlight
The Martian
Room
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton

“The Book Thief” Definitely Oscar Worthy!

Just saw a truly wonderful late entry into the Oscar Race, Fox 2000’s “The Book Thief”, a small “little” film that is anything but. “The Book Thief” creeps up and steals your heart away and leaves you devastated.  Oscar, are you watching?

It’s World War II and an unseen narrator eerily sets the scene.  Who this narrator is slowly to be revealed is one of the main mysteries of “The Book Thief.” Is it Geoffrey Rush? The film’s leading man. Or just who is it?

Of course, this immediately sets up the greatest of film dynamics which is  the audience wanting to know “What’s going to happen next?” And with “The Book Thief” that suspense is maintained literally til the last frame. Which is really an achievement.

We’re in a familiar setting, Germany during WW II. In fact, it seems to resemble very closely another German back-dropped war drama “The Reader” which won Kate Winslet one Oscar and two Golden Globes.

“The Book Thief”could land a slew of Oscar nods, too. Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush) and Best Supporting Actress (Emily Watson) Best Adapted Screenplay and maybe more.

It depends on just how wily Fox 2000, sometimes referred to as Big Fox, plays its’ Oscar campaign from here on out. Fox Searchlight, of course, has a sweeping winner with “12 Years a Slave”. But “The Book Thief” should gets its’ due also.

IF enough Academy members get to see it in time to nominate it.

Geoffrey Rush gives one of his most beguiling and sweetly sympathetic performances as the adoptive father of the titular heroine, the child Leisl played by newcomer Sophie Nelisse, who is the Book Thief.

And Emily Watson gives hands down one of the best performances of her career as Leisl’s turbulent adoptive mother who is practising tough love with the child for most of the movie.

So familiar is this setting,i half-expected Kate Winslet to bicycle around the corner in braids any second. The aqua hue of the light is almost the same color of the lighting in “The Reader.”

The Nazi book burning that really sets the film in motion is frightening, and Leisl, who loves books so passionately that she begins to steal them, is traumatized by this event that she witnesses as a choir member of the Hitler Youth singing “Deustcheland Uber Alles.”

She even is so bold to steal one of the still smoldering books from the embers of the pile in one of the film’s pivotal moments. It’s still burning and as her kindly doting adoptive father Geoffrey Rush hurries her home, she starts coughing from the smoke that is coming from the still burning book hidden under her coat.

Rush takes the book from her then hides it under his coat. And more I cannot reveal, because the plot involves and tricks you with its’ many twists and turns that are its’ strengths. As well as the superb performances of Sophie Nelisse, Rush and Watson.

Don’t read any reviews that might spoil the delight of experiencing “The Book Thief” for the first time, not knowing what was going to happen. Just know that it COULD be nominated for Best Picture, though nobody is predicting it for the moment. BUT I AM.

Germany, the Halocaust, the Nazis, WWII, Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush, an adorable little girl heroine, it’s catkip to Oscar Voters, and to me as well. See it!

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