Son of Saul Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn. Directed by László Nemes. Rated R. Opens Friday at Century Suncoast, Regal Green Valley Ranch.
Movies about the Holocaust have become so commonplace that the historical atrocity itself has lost much of its onscreen impact. Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes manages to make those horrors immediate and visceral again with the haunting Oscar-nominated drama Son of Saul, about a Sonderkommando, a Jew who was forced to aid the Nazis in disposing of the bodies and personal effects of fellow Jews who were killed in gas chambers. Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian Sonderkommando at Auschwitz who becomes determined to offer a religious burial for a boy he believes is his son, going to extraordinary lengths (including risking his life and the lives of his fellow prisoners) in order to do so.
Set during the final days of World War II, Son of Saul is effective not necessarily because of its emotional story, but because of the way Nemes draws the audience into that story, shooting in the narrow Academy ratio and keeping his camera almost exclusively focused on Röhrig, letting all of the horrific events unfold in the background. He places the audience alongside Saul, experiencing the same disorientation and panic. That can be overwhelming and repetitive after a while, but it’s never less than powerful.