Friday, January 22, 2016

Son Of Saul 2015

The sure shot foreign film to pick up the oscar next month is “Son Of Saul” which I saw the other day. It’s still ringing in my mind and ears (the use of sound is very important to the experience) and upsetting me in my waking and dreaming hours. The story takes place during a few horrific days in 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau where the main character Saul played with reverting intensity by a non actor Geza Rohrig  is one of the Sonderkommando prisoners Jews who were forced to help with the death and destruction of other Jews. They helped getting the victims into the gas chambers and afterwards collected the clothes and other belongings of the murdered souls and then forced to clean up the mess that the German monsters left.  The guards yell out to them to get rid of the “pieces” and it’s hard to watch at times and part of the brilliance of the film is that we don’t see much. There are quick snips and scenes mostly out of focus or off camera, but the effect is still devastating especially as we glimpse faces and bodies and feel the claustrophobia and tragic panic that the victims of the Nazi machine feel. We can make out figures fuzzy like ghosts moving naked and lost into the industrial size gas chambers to lose their lives simply because of who they are and as he goes about his ghastly chores Saul  notices a young boy who has survived the gas, but is sick and struggling for air, and his life is quickly taken by a German doctor who finishes what the gas failed to do. This is a heartbreaking scene one of many in this heartbreaking film  and as Saul watches he decides that this boy is his son and wants to give him a proper burial. We are never sure if this is indeed his son, and does it really matter anyway. He sets out to find a rabbi so he can honor this poor child with a proper send off and this is where the film becomes even more nerve wracking than it already is.  The director Laszlo Nemes whose first film this is uses sound to bring out the horror. We hear the screams and banging on the gas chambers doors, the cries of babies, the quick prayers, the yelling of the inhuman guards. He also filmed it in the old ratio of1.33:1 giving us a box like format that adds much to the tight and claustrophobic feel of the film making us feel like we are indeed there. One of the ten best films of 2015.

I’ve watched many films and newsreels and read many books about this horrific chapter of the 20th century and cried myself to exhaustion and I still can’t get a grip, or understanding of this. It has indeed poisoned me, causing me great hatred for Germany and its people, and yet my distress and hatred still goes on. It came with me when I went to Germany in 1971 where I was to have a show of my art in Cologne and to this day I still regret my decision to go to this hated place. But I was barely 24 and heady with the notion of being appreciated. I now know that this was wrong, and that I never should have allowed myself to step foot in this place. I compromised myself and sold out, but I swore that I would never again step foot in Germany.


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