Directed by László Nemes and starring Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul is an unassuming, low budget Hungarian movie focusing on the life of Jewish men in a WW2 German prisoner of war camp.
Very little is known about the main character, Saul (Géza Röhrig), apart from the fact that he is a Sonderkommando, a specific type of Jewish prisoner of war tasked with the more gruesome tasks of a death camp. The plot line pivots around choices that Saul makes which begin to reveal more and more about his true character. After finding the body of a boy who is believed to be his own son, the film follows the pursuit of Saul to give his son a proper Jewish burial, rather than allowing him to be burned with the other bodies in the camp.
The film offers a unique perspective on the lives of the Jewish prisoners. It also shows the various ways in which they would try to create advantageous situations for themselves by negotiating and scheming with other prisoners and even the guards.
Filmed in four weeks in Budapest, the film makes use of extended long shots with a short range of focus, following the main character throughout the story. The short focus range forces viewers to concentrate on Saul’s expression and actions rather than what is going on in the background. The film, due to being primarily in Hungarian with additional German dialect, also forces viewers to focus more on body language, rather than relying on dialogue to understand the narrative.
Overall, Son of Saul redefines what many people would perceive to be a sensitive subject area for a movie. This relatively low budget production exceeds expectations, and creates an evocative viewing experience. It maintains a sense of purity and objectivity due to the smart choices made by the director and producers and consequently makes the movie accessible to a wider audience. The high praise for the film is evidenced by it receiving an Oscar for Best Foreign Film as well as a wide range of accolades from the Cannes Film Festival.