Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig) is a Jewish-Hungarian prisoner at Auschwitz. A worker with the Sonderkommando, he is part of a special group of prisoners charged with the grim job of disinfecting gas chambers after exterminations and burning the bodies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonderkommando). While moving corpses after a particular gassing, he finds a young boy (Gergö Farkas) struggling to breathe. Saul notifies a guard and watches a doctor kill the boy. The event sets off something in Saul, prompting his mission to find a rabbi at the camp and give the boy a proper burial in the midst of a brewing prison uprising.
The plot is touching, and some of the story developments are even gripping; but the plot is secondary. Son of Saul is not about the story; it’s about the feeling of being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Director and cowriter Laszlo Nemes is successful—to say the least—and the result is fucking intense: noise and confusion dominate. What exactly is happening at the moment and what’s real are seldom clear. The mood is tense and things are volatile. The camera work, choppy and blurry and focused almost entirely on Saul, creates a claustrophobic, suffocating effect. At some points, body parts of the dead—a foot, a breast, a crotch—come in and out of focus in the background like unsettling scenery.
Son of Saul is a mindfuck, and parts of it teeter on being unwatchable. It throws out a lot to process; I left the theater frazzled. I never want to see it again, but I don’t need to: it’s going to stay with me. Nemes does an excellent job; it’s so powerful that it’s hard to believe this is his directorial debut.
(Music Box) A-