Son of Saul (Saul fia)


Oscar-winning intensity.

Oscar-winning intensity.

(2014) Drama (Sony Classics) Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Jerzy Walczak, Gergö Farkas, Balázs Farkas, Sándor Zsórér, Marcin Czarnik, Levente Orbán, Kamil Dobrowolski, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Attila Fritz, Mihály Kormos, Márton Ȧgh, Amitai Kedar, István Pion, Juli Jakab. Directed by László Nemes

When we think of the Holocaust, it is truly hard to wrap our minds around it. The absolute ghastly nature of it; essentially Nazi Germany created death factories in which living people were brutally and efficiently processed into corpses, then those corpses disposed of. The horror of it fails to penetrate our skulls because we simply can’t conceive of it, even when we see pictures and newsreel footage. Our minds won’t let us.

But it did happen and perhaps one of the more astonishing things is that the Nazis had help in the orderly disposal of the Jews – from the Jews themselves. The sonderkommandos were tasked with cleaning the physical mess left behind by the dying, scrubbing the gas chambers to remove the bloodstains made from bloodied fists beating against the iron doors in vain trying to escape, as well as the excrete of a human body in extremis. They are the ones that process the clothes and take them for sorting, act as cowboys herding the masses of those getting off the train at Auschwitz into the waiting chambers. They are the ones who drag the corpses – now called pieces by the German guards – to the ovens, or out to mass graves. They dispose of the ashes when the ovens get full. And their service buys them only a few months before they are herded into chambers of their own.

Saul Auslander (Röhrig) is just such a man. He walks with a purpose, his visage grim and unsmiling, revealing nothing of what is occurring inside while he does his grim and grisly work. He cares for no-one and nothing; he aids the resistance somewhat, reluctantly agreeing to fight although he says very little about it. His life is a perpetual tunnel vision of task and survival, even if it is only for a few short weeks. Perhaps the war will end before the Nazis get a chance to kill him.

Then he sees a young boy who survives the chamber – barely. German doctors are called in to see the boy, still breathing, lying on a slab. Then they suffocate him. Something inside Saul snaps. He determines to see that this boy, who fought so valiantly to survive, gets a proper Jewish burial with the rites of kadish read by a rabbi. He even claims him as his son, which he may or may not be.

However, there aren’t many rabbis left and those that are aren’t likely to advertise their rabbinical status. Finding one in the hordes of the doomed coming in is highly unlikely. Hiding the body of the boy amid the chaos and paranoia of Nazis and prisoners alike, improbable. Getting both the body and the rabbi outside of the camp for the burial is nigh-on impossible.

The opening shot, shown from Saul’s point of view as chaos comes in and out of focus as he herds new arrivals towards the waiting gas chambers, shows that this is going to be a different and excellent film. Everything outside of what is immediate to Saul is blurred, as if seen through tunnel vision. The style reminds one strongly of the Dardennes brothers who employ a similar technique.

The entire film in fact is shot this way, which is a double edged sword. It allows us to see Saul’s perspective which is very much on immediate survival, and excludes anything beyond that narrow focus. Saul’s world is by necessity a small one, limited to the task at hand of the moment and of avoiding the indiscriminate wrath of Nazi soldiers who aren’t above executing him for a minor infraction.

However, as someone who is prone to vertigo, the whirling camera rapidly goes from being an innovation to an annoyance to being downright disruptive. I found myself unable to look at the screen because I was getting way too dizzy. That kind of defeats the purpose of a movie; how are we to make sense of the images when we can’t see them?

That’s not a minor quibble, but it really is the only one. Everything else about the movie is simply awe-inspiring, from the strong, internalized performance by Röhrig that reveals little about what’s inside of Saul as it in fact tells us everything we need to do. Who is this boy to Saul? Is it his son, as he claims? A representation of the son he lost? Or is he a symbol standing for all the Jews who the Holocaust has taken?

These questions are at the center of the film and they are not easily answered. Saul himself is an enigmatic character who defies us to get to know him even as he gives us nothing to hold onto. For Nemes, he orchestrates this narrative masterfully, telling us a grim and dark story from a brand new perspective, one which we as a cinematic audience have never experienced before. For that alone, the movie richly deserves the Oscar it won last month for Best Foreign Language Film.

This is, simply put, a must-see film. Some audience members, particularly Jewish ones who have family members who were victims of the Holocaust, are going to find this hard to watch. I did, although mainly because my vertigo made me look away more than the stark and often gruesome images. Still, it is worth us to remind us that the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man is nearly boundless, a lesson we still haven’t learned more than 70 years later.

REASONS TO GO: Searing and emotionally powerful material. Röhrig delivers an amazing performance. Innovative camera style.
REASONS TO STAY: Shaky cam caused legitimate dizziness.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some fairly gruesome violence and cruelty as well as a lot of graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is supposed to be from Saul’s perspective only; we never see anything that isn’t within his field of view or hear anything that isn’t within his range of hearing.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/7/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 89/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Gods of Egypt

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New Releases for the Week of February 26, 2016


Eddie the EagleEDDIE THE EAGLE

(20th Century Fox) Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny, Edvin Endre, Ania Sowinski, Rune Temte, Anastasia Harrold. Directed by Dexter Fletcher

=Michael “Eddie” Edwards is a bit of a folk hero in England. From a young age he dreamed of being an Olympic champion. He never let the fact that he was a crappy athlete get in his way. Inspired to become a ski jumper (since there were essentially no ski jumpers in England), he has to claw and fight and scratch his way to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics where he will jump into the ages.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking)

Gods of Egypt

(Summit) Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Elodie Yung. When the gods make war amongst themselves, their human followers suffer. The great god Set has taken over Egypt, running it with an iron hand. Only the courageous hero Bek can save the day with the aid of the god Horus, but the two will have to overcome mighty odds.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, some language and smoking)

Neerja

(Fox Star) Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Ali Baldiwala, Alex Kozyrev. The 1986 hijacking of Pan-Am flight 73 in India by terrorists is one of those unforgettable stories that could have been a lot worse. The courage of flight attendant Neerja Bhanot is credited with saving lives aboard that flight; she is a national hero in India and her story is told for the first time on the big screen here.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Son of Saul

(Sony Classics) Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont. Near the end of the Second World War, an Auschwitz inmate charged with burying the bodies of the dead discovers a corpse that he takes to be his son. Not wanting his son’s body to be burned with the others, he must find a rabbi willing to deliver the funeral rites and help him give the body a proper burial. This is the odds-on favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at Sunday’s award ceremony.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R  (for disturbing violent content, and some graphic nudity)

Triple 9

(Open Road) Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson. A group of dirty cops are blackmailed into pulling off a nearly impossible heist. The only way they can make it work is to call in a code 999, officer down – which would involve killing a fellow police officer. But will they be able to pull it off – and what happens if they can’t?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity)

Pick of the Litter – December 2015


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

(Disney/LucasFilm) Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. For Star Wars fans, there is literally a new hope; after the prequel trilogy that pleased nobody, Disney bought LucasFilm and went on to set up an unprecedented and ambitious series of films, including a new trilogy and at least two stand-alone films. All of that begins right here with this film. Little is known about the plot of the newest episode, only that it takes place 30 years after the original trilogy in a universe where the Empire is as strong and as cruel as ever. New heroes will fight beside the old in what promises to be yet another license for Disney to print money. December 18

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Hitchcock Truffaut

Hitchcock/Truffaut

(Cohen Media Group) Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher. In 1966 French director Francois Truffaut conducted a series of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock which changed the public perception of not only the man but of the art of directing films in general. The two legendary directors discussed the art of making film, the planning and the thought that went into it, their frustrations when things didn’t work out the way they wanted and their joys when unexpected brilliance occurred. This documentary looks at how this watershed book has affected modern filmmakers as well as examines the author and his subject in depth. December 2

Life

Life

(Cinedigm) Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley. Photographer Dennis Stock is given the assignment in 1955 by Life Magazine to do a photo essay on an unknown actor named James Dean. What begins as an assignment turns into mutual respect and eventually into a lifelong friendship. The performances by the two lead actors have already received a good deal of acclaim on the festival circuit. Noted photographer Anton Corbijn directs. December 4

Macbeth

Macbeth

(Weinstein) Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Paddy Considine. I don’t mind saying that I’m a great admirer of William Shakespeare, and that my all-time favorite Shakespeare play is this one. It has it all – political intrigue, murder, an ambitious wife, the supernatural – everything anyone could possibly want. And this particular performance has the incomparable Marion Cotillard and the emerging superstar Michael Fassbender. What’s not to like? December 4

The Emperor's New Clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes

(Sundance Selects) Russell Brand. Comedian and activist Russell Brand takes on perhaps the most arrogant species on Earth – the British banker. As responsible for the world economic downturn as their American counterparts, to date in Britain no banking executive has had criminal charges leveled against them for the various malfeasances committed either with their direct knowledge or under their watch. Brand uses the confrontational tactics of Michael Moore coupled with his own unique brand of humor (see what I did there?) to bring attention to the British people that there is something they can do about it – and by extension, the American people as well. December 16

Bajirao Mastani

Bajirao Mastani

(Eros International) Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra, Aditya Pancholi. The Indian film industry has been thriving for decades, but in American terms has been coming into its own more than ever. This epic tale of a historic romance between the Indian general Baji Rao and his second wife Mastani has the kind of sweep and scope that American films have had and has of late been more the province of the Chinese film industry. Lush sets, massive battle sequences, and of course what would an Indian film be without a catchy pop song to hum on the way home from the theater? December 18

 He Never Died

He Never Died

(Vertical) Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Steven Ogg, Jordan Todosey. Jack, a social outcast, lives in his apartment alone and content to be that way. Venturing out only to get supplies, to have a quiet drink and occasionally a rousing game of bingo, he keeps the world at arm’s length. However, there are those who don’t want him to remain that way and when he discovers that he has a daughter that he never knew about, she becomes a pawn in a deadly game – which leads Jack to reveal an ancient and terrifying secret. Henry Rollins, former lead singer of Black Flag and one of my favorite humans ever, stars. December 18

Son of Saul

Son of Saul

(Sony Classics) Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont. A concentration camp prisoner tasked with burning the bodies of the victims discovers the body of a young boy he takes to be his son in the waning days of the war. With the Germans desperately trying to liquidate evidence of their atrocities, he makes the decision to salvage the body of his son so that a rabbi might give him a proper burial, putting everything on the line for a boy he didn’t take care of in life. This is Hungary’s official submission for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar. December 18

45 Years

45 Years

(Sundance Selects) Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells. In the weeks leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary, a couple receives a letter which contains life-changing news. Attempting to recover while planning a gala celebration, the two must find a place where they can continue onwards – and rediscover the strength to love each other. This film was a huge hit at the Berlin Film Festival, winning Golden Bears for both Rampling and Courtenay. December 23