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Thursday 1st
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Maria Duarte recommends an eye-opening film set in the nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau

Son of Saul (15)
Directed by Laszlo Nemes
5 Stars

IT’S hard enough coming up with a fresh insight into the Holocaust, yet first-time director Laszlo Nemes has achieved precisely that with his powerful and impressive award-winning drama.

It explores the inner workings of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944 through the eyes of Saul Auslander, (Geza Rohrig) a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommandos.

They were groups of prisoners, usually Jews, specially chosen by the SS to lead fellow Jewish inmates to the gas chambers, then dispose of their bodies and clean the area for the next arrivals.

Given relatively preferential treatment, they could move freely within the concentration camp but were eliminated and replaced after three or four months as they were witnesses to the mass exterminations.

This engrossing drama focuses on two days in Saul’s gruelling life in which he becomes obsessed with the search for a rabbi to say Kaddish and give a young boy, who he takes to be his son, a proper burial.

The youngster miraculously survived the gassing to then be killed by a German guard.

The camera focuses squarely on Saul, following him from behind and in front, never straying from his line of vision or hearing.

Thus we see what he witnesses and, as he shuts himself off from the horrors surrounding him daily, the dead bodies are shown in out-of-focus shots.

The atrocities aren’t shown directly but, equally chilling, they can be heard. There’s a harrowing intensity as Saul is made to drag fellow Jews’ corpses, burn them and dispose of the ash dispassionately while trying to find a rabbi to regain a slither of his humanity.

Newcomer Rohrig, in a remarkable and mesmerising performance, remains expressionless throughout as the camera stays fixed on him through most of the film.

Nemes delivers an ambitious and thought-provoking cinematic masterpiece and the question is how he will follow it up.

Watch this space.