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“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.

 

Cannes Film Festival Award Winners 2014, “Foxcatcher” Most Likely Oscar Candidate

Julianne Moore 1Foxcatcher 1

The Cannes Film Festival was never to my mind a great Oscar predictor. But nevertheless there are those that think it has become more relevant of late. I don’t think any of the below named winners are gonna repeat at the Oscar nominations when they are announced in January. EXCEPT for Bennett Miller, who was named Best Director for “Foxcatcher”, the one American film from Cannes that seemed to emerge by all accounts as a legitimate Oscar contender.

However, none of its’ three leads, Steve Carrell (yes, STEVE CARRELL, giving his first serious acting performance) as the murderous wrestling obsessed millionaire Henry DuPont, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, who received great praise from press and critics alike were not awarded. But don’t worry. Placed firmly in the middle of the Oscar surge season, opening stateside on Nov.17, it is SURELY the one film that is going to be heavy figured into the Oscar conversation. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing it, and they could have done so last year. But the Best Actor race was so crowded they decided to wait til this year, which may have been a wise move. A dark tale of obsession, murder, money and wrestling, it seems like Academy catnip to me.

Best Actress went to Julianne Moore, for David Cronenberg’s Hollywood tale “Maps to the Stars” which is opening very soon in the U.S. Moore plays an aging Hollywood actress, who is on the verge of losing it. Moore is an Academy fave being nominated numerous times, but has never won. You can never count her out. She is well-liked by all in the industry.

Best Actor is British thesp Timothy Spall, who plays the title role of Brit painted extraordinaire J.M.V.Turner In Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” Spall is a well-respected veteran actor who has never been nominated or won. I’m looking forward to seeing this film, too, when it opens in the fall. It will probably also play Toronto as will “Foxcatcher” most likely. So I’ll see them there.

I was burned very badly in the past when I enthusiastically supported other Mike Leigh performers. Leslie Manville in particular for the last Mike Leigh joint “Another Year” in 2010. She didn’t even get nominated. But Spall is better known here, might have a better shot. We’ll see. 

And ma Cherie Marion Cotillard, once again got nothing. I always feel Cannes doesn’t appreciate her, unbelievably, though I of course do. Marion’s film in contention was “Two Days, One Night” by the Dardennes brothers.

Here’s the winners~

Palme d’Or: “Winter Sleep,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Grand Prix: “La Meraviglie,” Alice Rohrwacher
Prix du Jury: (tie) “Mommy,” Xavier Dolan; “Goodbye to Language,” Jean-Luc Godard
Best Director: Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Best Screenplay: Andrey Zvyaginstsev and Oleg Negin, “Leviathan”
Camera d’Or (Best First Feature): “Party Girl,” Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis
Best Actor: Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, “Maps to the Stars”
Palme d’Or, Short Film: “Leidi,” Simon Mesa Soto
Short Film Special Mention: “Aissa,” Clement Trehin-Lalanne; “Ja Vielsker,” Halivar Witzo

 

 

Oscar’s gonna LOVE “A Better Life.” No, not “Tree of Life” “A BETTER Life!!”

I can’t believe how deeply affected I was by the small Indie “A Better Life,” which I only recently watched on DVD. For an under-reviewed, under-appreciated mainly Mexican film that is half in Spanish, about the life and struggles of an illegal immigrant gardener, it really made all its’ points with a powerful punch-to-the-gut impact. I’m still reeeeling!

But I loved it, and appreciated the power, the intelligence and the artistry of filmmaker Chris Weitz and the Mexican star Demian Bichir, who’s now going to be just as big a star in Hollywood as he is in Mexico.

And it contains one great, probably classic film scene where its’ SAG nominee for Best Actor, Demian  Bichir, as Carlos Galindo, the gardener, has to climb up to the top of a  Hollywood palm tree to cut cocoanuts. And it’s a really heart-in-your-mouth scene that makes you gasp out loud, as he really, for real ,climbs that tall,dangerous palm tree in a rich white woman’s garden, and gazes out over the magnificent Los Angeles cityscape. He enjoys perhaps his happiest moment in the movie, looking for a brief second, at the stunning view.

Only to look down and see his truck, the truck that he’s sunk his whole family’s money and his life, into being stolen along with all his tools! By a compadre, another illegal Mexican, who he was trying to help out with an afternoon’s job.  And there he is stuck up the F***ing palm tree!

And we saw how slow and difficult it was for him to climb up, and then we see him struggling to get down, fast, without breaking his neck, and of course, he can’t. He has to go down as slowly as he went up that dangerous tree! Talk about in Academy-speak “Degree of Difficulty”!

And then he chases the stolen truck on foot! His desperate chase makes George Clooney’s similar race in “The Descendants” look ridiculous. But then that’s what it’s supposed to be.

But the Academy are going to watch that “A Better Life” screener, which they all had in their possession since LABOR DAY! It was the first to be sent out this year, and I’m oh so glad to give Kudos Summit Entertainment for taking a page from Sony Pictures Classics- typical Oscar campaign gambit by doing so.

And Bichir himself? Why, he was Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour “Che.” And he’s absolutely disarming in interview situations. He and director Chris (“New Moon”) Weitz have even been to Washington, D.C. with it.

And in this election year, when the phrase “illegals” is being thrown around all over the place, THIS is the film that addresses this topic in a way that’s never really been shown before. From the point of view of a Mexican illegal himself.

In an early scene of the film, Bichir’s son (Jose Julian), kids his father about not having a driver’s license. It’s done as sort of a throw-away moment, but then you realize that the Carlos Galindos of the world CAN’T get Drivers Licenses because they are “illegals,” this year’s new “N” word.

But I think Damien Bichir is going to be experiencing a big “O” word in his near future. O like in Oscar.

I see “Midnight in Paris” for the SIXTH time!!!

I can’t help myself! I can’t believe it! I never see movies more than once, usually, but SIX times! This amounts to an obsession. But a lovely one.

“Midnight in Paris” is so entrancing, so enthralling I keep going back to see it again and again and again. And again and again and again.

Why am I doing this???

As I bought my ticket yet again(also something I NEVER do, being a film critic, if I don’t see it at a press screening, I usually don’t catch up with it til it’s on DVD) and I was a little late, and I told the woman that that was Ok, because I’d already seen the movie five times. And she said “Is it THAT good?” Absolutely astonished.

Yes, it’s THAT good.

It’s also just not me who’s seeing it in this monumental terms. People all over the world and flocking, making it on track to be Woody Allen’s greatest grossing movie of all time, but also, perhaps, too, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS greatest grossing movie of all time.

And the Academy is certainly going to take notice of this, as I’ve said before.

Could it win Best Picture for Woody? Who hasn’t had a Best Picture win since “Annie Hall” way back in the deep, dark ’70s….

Could the Woodman score again?

With these numbers(and yes, I admit to driving them up, but if I’m going back to see it again and again, others must be, too) With this immense popularity(it’s playing in theaters a Woody Allen film has never played in. EVAH!) Oscar can’t really ignore it.

But more pertinently, what may it be up against in the final show down in November/December?

There’s Stephen Spielberg’s upcoming movie version of the Tony winning Best Play “War Horse” and there’s also David Fincher’s remake of the Swedish movie, a classic to some(me included) “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

I think Woody’s feel good “Midnight” might actually beat these two, if it keeps going the way it’s going. And yes, it is STILL going.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was the other top grosser that Sony Pictures Classics has that “Midnight in Paris” has to unseat and it looks like it’s going to.

CTHD got nominated for Best Picture, too, that year, but didn’t win.

Frankly, it’s charms eluded me. I’m not that into Kung Fu, or whatever it was they were doing in that movie.

Though I liked the first Kung Fu Panda.

But “Midnight in Paris” is a delightful film. Delight. A very, very rare commodity these days. And charming. And well, even exceptionally acted.

Sony Pictures is going to do an Oscar campaign for leading actor Owen Wilson, and he just may score a nomination. Yes,even for a comedy. He shows Cary Grant-like chops in this movie. Sublime comic timing, and a character every one in the West Coast dominated Academy can relate to, a surfer dude-like sell-out.

Leading men who can carry a spritely comedy like this and pull it off so delightfully(there’s that word again) are rare, rare, rare in H’wood these days.

He’s made many,many movies. Has a multi-billion dollar franchise at Number One right now. “Cars Two” (and no, I’m not rushing to see it). So he’s everywhere this year.

But back to repeat showings. Rachel MacAdams’ family and she herself become more and more genuinely loathsome upon repeat viewings. And Marion Cotillard grows in beauty each time.

At one point, I think it’s the great Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, who says in one of the pivotal scenes in the film, “She has one of the great faces” and she does.

Bates’ Stein is berating Picasso, who has painted a ridiculous abstract portrait of Adriana, Marion’s character, and says he has not grasped the essence of her beauty. She says in French that it is “plus subtle” and Picasso has made her look like “a whore in the Place Pigalle.”

Seeing “Midnight in Paris” so many times means it becomes like seeing an old friend. It’s comforting. It makes you happy, as good friends ought to do. And also a continued inspiration.

I just love it to pieces and I bet the Academy is going to, too.

#9~”Another Year” And the continuing magnificence of Leslie Manville’s Mad Mary

And now going up the Ladder of my Year’s Ten Best, #9 is the delightful, lovely, bittersweet Mike Leigh masterwork “Another Year” which I saw at the Toronto Film Festival and just madly enjoyed.

And I wrote about it there and I’ll write about it again here. And I have not as yet re-seen it, as I often do with films I love, but what has stayed with me so powerfully all these months is the magnificent performance of Leslie Manville as the essence of the word lonely. Her portrayal of a turning -50  London single woman, whose name is the most common in the English language, Mary, is still haunting me to this day

Every scene that Manville played was like she was pouring  burning acid from the screen. That’s how indelibly  her portrait of a wretched, distraught,  jauntily-covering-it, but not, modern urban woman, who is no longer young is etched into my mind. And evidently the minds of the National Board of Review, who gave her their best actress award.

Everybody else in Leigh’s flawless ensemble is perfect, but they are all merely supportive window-dressing to the central story which is Mary’s. Watching her unravel and descend into an all-too-relatable private hell is something that I bet the Academy AND the Golden Globes will remember.

And don’t forget that the Hollywood Foreign Press put Leigh’s last work into their category of Comedy/Musical and Manville’s tragic performance could be nominated THERE for Best Actress and win there like Sally Hawkins’ won two years ago for her equally unforgettable Poppy, the eternal optimist in “Happy Go Lucky.”

People critcized the unique Hawkins’ Poppy as being like nails-on-a-blackboard, she was so endlessly, exhaustingly cheery. Poppy always found the bright side in every situation that life threw her into. It really was a crying shame that she was not nominated for an Oscar.

And Manville may benefit from that. But her Mary is not optimistic at all, though she plays at being that way. But life is hitting her much too hard with the finality that her youth no matter how hard she tries to hang on to it at last in this “Another Year” is gone with the wind.

Stephen Holt Show’s 2010 Year’s Ten Best List

I’ll elaborate further later,when I have more time, but for now, here is my 2010 Year’s Ten Best List –

1. The King’s Speech

2. A Film Unfinished

3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

4. Nowhere Boy

5. Black Swan

6. 127 Hours

7. Mesrine, Pts. 1 & 2

8. Blue Valentine

9. Another Year

10.I Love You, Phillip Morris

I have this feeling that Leslie Manville is going to win all the Critics’ Awards for Best Actress..

Call me psychic. Call me “The Oscar Messenger” but by all means CALL ME!

No, but seriously dear readers, dear cineastes, dear Awards-obsessives, I do have this feeling that taking their cue from the National Board of Review this week that all the major Film Critics associations. Of which I’m only seriously counting TWO. Or there’s only TWO that seriously count, the New York Film Critics and the L.A. Film Critics groups, who are voting this coming week end I think. They don’t nominate. They just announce. Like the National Board of Review…And I think they are all going to think that the brilliant, unknown, but incredibly deserving Leslie Manville of “Another Year” is going to be who they both pick.

This also may be in reaction to her LOSING the BIFA(British Independent Film Critics Award) where she was nominated in Supporting to Helena Bonham-Carter. For “The King’s Speech”. Maybe this is what Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics was thinking all the time. That AT LEAST if she gets a lead actress nomination, that’s a distinction that will always be with her.

Leslie Manville…who? I know, I know. She’s nearly as obscure as Jackie Weaver. So I should at least take the time to explain that Manville, 50, is the mad Mary character in Mike Leigh’s BEAUTIFUL “Another Year.” I loved this film and saw it at Toronto and wrote about it, here, in this blog, at the time.  So search back to September and you’ll find it.

Leslie has been the Mike Leigh stalwart for 12 films. That’s nearly all of them. And the Academy ALWAYS watchs a Mike Leigh screener, and they’re especially going to love the bittersweet mid-life crisis joys and sorrows of “Another Year.” And Manville’s Mary is hovering between lead and supporting. And she just won lead actress at the NBR, but lost at the BIFA, in her OWN country! So that can be put down to category confusion.

Something that the NYFCC and the LAFC are going to feel bound and determined to correct.

We’ll see soon enough as the awards and nominations start flying at us like frisbees in the coming weeks.

If you REALLY want to get a taste of Leslie’s loveliness Paula Schwartz, the Baugette of the Carpetbagger Oscar Column at the New York Times www.nytimes.com

wrote an equally lovely “Introduction to Leslie” kind-of-piece. The Carpetbagger is the Times answer to all us Oscar Bloggers. Now they have their own, too.

Mylena Rysik and Paula are the main Carpetbaggers this season. I hope that link works!

Nope. It doesn’t.:( I’m STILL so tech-tarded, I can’t believe it!

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