Rob Edelman: Son Of Saul, Etc.
As each year passes, time increasingly separates us from the events in Europe during the 1930s and 40s and, specifically, World War II and the Holocaust. The youngest concentration camp survivors now are elderly and the question is: Will the Holocaust simply fade into history? Will it be at all remembered? And if so, how so?
Quite a few new films do indeed explore various aspects of the Holocaust. All are thoughtful and well-intentioned, and are linked in that they are set after the war but deal with Holocaust-related issues, with acknowledging and confronting the past. Two even are fact-based German productions, and are thematically linked. LABYRINTH OF LIES, set in the late 1950s, follows a newly appointed public prosecutor who is stonewalled by those around him as he sets out to bring to justice a former Auschwitz concentration camp guard. One of the supporting characters in LABYRINTH OF LIES is Fritz Bauer, a German prosecutor. He is the central character in THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER, which follows his efforts to bring to trial Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal: an event which garnered major international attention in the early 1960s. The least dramatically successful is the appropriately-titled REMEMBER, directed by Canada’s Atom Egoyan. Christopher Plummer stars as an aged Holocaust survivor who seeks retribution against the concentration camp guard directly responsible for putting to death his family seven decades earlier.
But the one film that, cinematically-speaking, stands out way above the rest is SON OF SAUL, a Hungarian film that is the debut feature of director/co-scripter László Nemes. Granted, given its theme, SON OF SAUL is a difficult film-- but it is a must-see. The storyline centers on the title character, an Auschwitz inmate, and what happens when he makes a staggering discovery while being forced to burn the corpses of his fellow Jews. Much of the film is shot in semi-close-up, with the emphasis on Saul’s gut reaction to what is going on around him. In the background are the sounds of fellow prisoners whispering and Nazis barking orders.
In recent years, we’ve been subjected to such revisionist films as LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and DOWNFALL: infuriating works which soften the reality of Adolph Hitler and the Holocaust. But SON OF SAUL depicts Auschwitz in all its horror. Now across the decades, plenty of films have explored the Holocaust, and life and death in the camps. However, in my experience, there never has been one quite like SON OF SAUL. I am predicting that it will deservedly walk off with the Best Foreign Film Academy Award.
Rob Edelman as written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.
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