|Members of the Sonderkommando. |
Picture from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In the horrors of the Auschwitz, the bodies of the dead are "pieces". Saul, when collecting bodies to be cremated, discovers one teenage boy gasping; he barely survived, until a Nazi suffocates him. Saul is fiercely determined to properly bury this child, even though it is strictly forbidden. He risks, as one fellow prisoner warns, of failing the living for the benefit of the dead.
Terry Gross interviewed both Rohrig and Laszlo Nemes, the director and co-writer of Son of Saul last year. Gross read them a quote from Nemes discussing the casting of Rohrig. Nemes had claimed that Rohrig is "at once old and young, handsome and ugly, ordinary and remarkable, deep and impassive, quick-witted and slow." Rohrig wittingly responded that he agreed with half of that. The quote couldn't be any truer. All of these are accurate descriptions of how Rohrig appears and the performance he creates. The character of Saul has seen too many atrocious episodes in one of human history's most disturbing events. There is a cut on his lip; his eyes are pink, presumably from shoveling human ash into the river; and everything is of terrible fury around him, even if we cannot fully see it. The cinematography switches between chaos and calm. A hundred things happen simultaneously, but Saul is the epicenter.
Some have argued that 2015 was a year of gimmick film making. Three other foreign films used what could be described as gimmicks: Room from Canada partially took place only in one room, Victoria from Germany impressively is one single take throughout multiple parts of Berlin, and The Tribe was filmed entirely in Ukrainian Sign Language with no subtitles. Sometimes Son of Saul too feels gimmicky, with how focused the camera is on Saul and not his surroundings, and it isn't as unforgettable as say Room.
That being said, it's a film that should be watched, and its warnings from history should be heeded. Every time a Holocaust movie is made, it's inevitable that it is said that "never again" will the world allow such a thing to happen. And yet it may be happening all over again.