Son of Saul leads with Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) as one of the ‘Sonderkommando’, a term used for a certain group of prisoners who lived separate from the rest of the prisoners at Auschwitz. Set in 1944, we’re told at the start that they would only work for a few months before being executed.
Their job is to follow the other prisoners into the changing rooms, prior to the latter having a shower, the guards constantly telling them that once clean, they’ll get fed and watered, prior to being given a job. They’re even told to remember the number of the hook on which they’ve placed their coats and other belongings, with a view to returning to them afterwards. As we all know, the truth was much different and the prisoners never returned. In fact – and this turns your heart heavy very early on – as the doors are closed, the Sonderkommando immediately start rifling through their belongings for money and other precious items to give to the Nazis. What you hear happening beyond those doors, a the same time, is extremely difficult to listen to, not least for the Sonderkommando themselves, as it is their fellow countrymen and women and children who are being put to death.
And to make matters worse for them, they’re also tasked with cleaning the showers to get them ready for the next victims. Similarly, there’s a scene where one Jewish man is instructed to get together a list of seventy men, amongst his workforce, whom they no longer require, effectively sentencing them to death.
After the first experience of the showers, Saul witnesses a young boy has survived the ordeal, albeit not for long. He declares that the boy is his son and wants to bury his body, even though that means sneaking it out of the morgue under the never-ending and unforgiving eyes of the Nazis. In fact, he becomes obsessed with trying to find a Rabbi to help him with the burial, and that is where the film falls down.
The actors are all on form in this drama, and there are some incredible one-take scenes as the camera follows Saul – practically in his face – as he goes about the ‘job’ of what he’s forced to do, with a lot of Saul’s foreground left blurred, and out of focus, so we can see what he would be seeing, but with the focus remains solely on Saul. In addition, as they’re carrying bodies, they’re often left just out of shot, as you know what’s happening, but it’s not something you need to see that’s so graphic.
However, while there’s no doubting that it’s a horrendous time in history, I just didn’t fathom what led Saul to get so involved in wanting a proper burial for a boy he didn’t actually know, especially since while he’s sidetracked with this, his compatriots’ efforts to do what they can to topple the Nazis are, to him, taking a back seat, and that puts them at a disadvantage, so he’s not helping things at all.
Son of Saul is also a difficult watch because of the Academy near-4:3 ratio while clearly there’s so much going on. I can see the look they were going for, but I think they should’ve stuck with 1.85:1, and not gone in so tight with Saul the whole time, especially with all the DTS 5.1 audio filling in the rest of the soundscape all around you.
The film is presented in the original 1.37:1 Academy ratio (approximately 4:3) and in 1080p high definition and perfectly gets across the horrendous situation Saul is in with no faults on the print.
The audio is in DTS HD 5.1 and I’ve already confirmed how the sound comes across – what you hear is as important as what you see, since it’s mostly filling in what you can’t see.
The extras are as follows. There’s not a huge amount, but certainly some interesting stuff in there:
- Q&A with director László Nemes (20:21): Hosted by Historian Nikolaus Wachsmann, and filmed in English, first with Mr Wachsmann asking questions for a while before it opens up to the audience. László Nemes confirms he had to take out background storylines about other sonderkommando as it was taking away from Saul’s story. And, would you believe that this is the director’s first feature film? That’s quite something.
Trailer (2:09): Presented in the original theatrical 1.37:1 ratio.
Behind the scenes: Seven small segments featuring GoPro footage, which give a brief, but intriguing, insight into how the filming was done. The segments run 3:28, 2:46, 2:27, 2:01, 1:25, 1:18 and 2:24.
Deleted Scene (1:57): A brief scene that doesn’t lessen the film for it not being included.
With A Little Patience (14:09): A short film by the director, from 2007, also shot in 2006 and with a lot of the same style.
The menu features clips from the film set to a piece of the score, there are a bog standard 12 chapters and subtitles are in English.
Running time: 107 minutes
Released: July 4th 2016
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: Russian, German
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: László Nemes
Producers: Gábor Rajna and Gábor Sipos
Screenplay: László Nemes and Clara Royer
Music: László Melis
Saul Ausländer: Géza Röhrig
Abraham Warszawski: Levente Molnár
Oberkapo Biederman: Urs Rechn
Bearded Prisoner: Todd Charmont
Rabbi Frankel: Jerzy Walczak
Saul’s Son: Gergö Farkas
Saul’s Son: Balázs Farkas
Dr. Miklos Nyiszli: Sándor Zsótér
Feigenbaum: Marcin Czarnik
Russian Prisoner: Levente Orbán
Mietek: Kamil Dobrowolski
Oberscharführer Voss: Uwe Lauer
Oberscharführer Busch: Christian Harting
Yankl (Young Prisoner): Attila Fritz
Schlojme: Mihály Kormos
Apikoyres (Greek Rabbi): Márton Ágh
Hirsch (Gold Collector): Amitai Kedar
Katz: István Pion
Ella: Juli Jakab
Landesman: Tamás Polgár
Female Kapo: Rozi Székely
SS Doctor: Erno Fekete
Old Rabbi: László Somorjai
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.