19 May 2016

Film

Just after noon today, I walked into the city centre to watch a film at The Showroom. It was called "Saul Fia" in Hungarian which translates to "Son of Saul" in English. What voices there were in this film spoke in either Hungarian or German or Polish with a sprinkling of Yiddish too. Naturally, there were English subtitles.

It was set in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. The constant focus is upon an Hungarian jew called Saul Ausländer played by Géza Röhrig. He is a member of a Sonderkommando unit - prisoners who evade the gas chamber by undertaking unspeakable tasks for their captors - herding new arrivals, carrying the bodies away, rifling through piles of clothes for money and jewellery. He is in Hell. We see it and hear it in a blurred background through which Saul moves furtively, often in close-up.

One day, from the pile of naked dead bodies, he hears the moaning of a teenage boy. This miracle survivor is carried away and then promptly suffocated by one of the German supervisors. Saul probably only imagines that the boy is his son and is overwhelmed by a desire to have him buried in the proper Jewish manner. All other thoughts leave his mind. Understandably, he may have been deranged by the things he has witnessed. He goes in search of a rabbi.
Saul Ausländer played by Géza Röhrig
Directed by László Nemes, "Son of Saul" is a very powerful, gripping film. We all know the terrible story of Auschwitz so why should the film spell it out once more? In fact, it doesn't. The horror is usually happening just off screen or in the blurry distance. Our focus is always upon Saul - a human being trapped by events over which he has no control. He is brutalised - given a number and a painted red cross on his back. He is a nobody and like other Sonderkommados he realises that his stay of execution will not last forever.

At the end of the film, Saul smiles for the first time as he sees a vision of a peasant boy in the doorway of the wooden  barn where he is hiding with other escapees. The smile lights up his face even as the Nazi search party closes in on their hiding place. The boy runs away as we hear the lethal echo of machine gun bullets. It is only then that we hear any music as the final credits unroll.

If this had been a play performed on a stage, I would have stood at the end and applauded loudly yelling "Bravo!" but it was just a film so instead I simply crept out of the darkness of the cinema with visions of Saul Ausländer fresh in my mind and a renewed sense of those terrible, inhuman events that were unfolding just a few short years before I was born. Truly brilliant.

30 comments:

  1. There is no way on the face of this earth that I would watch that film. Man's unspeakable inhumanity to man in all its forms has plagued me and I have never even had to live through the horror that is war or prison or racial hatred. I am a realist but I have always had a wish that people would live together in harmony. The older I get the more I hope and the more I despair.

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    1. Take away the first sentence and I am with you all the way Graham.

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  2. I agree with Graham - literally word for word.

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    1. It's certainly not a film for munching popcorn and canoodling on the back row.

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    2. Is that what they do?
      Haven't been to the cinema since the local "Fleapit" closed it's doors in 1973 ! The last film we saw on the big screen was "The Poesedin (sorry about the spelling!) Adventure", which is possibly why we've never been again !

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  3. It doesn't sound like "just a film" to me. Every review I've read about this movie has praised it.

    I respect and understand that it is a very good movie, but I'm in no hurry to see it...and I probably won't view it.

    The horrors that went during the Holocaust are beyond one's imagination; but they were real. It did happen...

    And humans still have not learned. They will never learn. Daily we see on our news bulletins man's inhumanity to man.

    I'm in accord with Graham's comment.

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    1. You are right about "man's inhumanity to man" as William Shakespeare put it. We never learn. Look at Syria today. Look at East Timor yesterday and Vietnam and Cambodia and Burma and Northern Ireland and Kosovo and... the list goes on.

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  4. I agree with Graham. I just can't bear to watch that sort of film. It's heartbreaking what humans are capable of.

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    1. Unlike you and Graham and Lee and Coppa's Girl and The Librarian, I do not turn away from the awkwardness and the horror. I think it is important to see it.

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  5. Let me join the club - I agree with Graham, too. Thank you for the review, Neil. I've read about this film in the ZEIT and, although I am by no means disinterested in what has happened "thanks" to my people (not by choice, but by birth) in the past, I already knew then that I was not going to watch it.

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    1. So many films that are made are garbage - sweet and soppy and predictable or following a horror or crime formula with big stars. "Son of Saul" rises high above that dross.

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    2. YP that fact that you consider your 'highbrow' tastes in films to be above 'all that dross' that many of us (who may consider football 'all that dross') may (or may not) enjoy perhaps you should, having made your views clear, been a bit more tolerant of the views of some of your commenters.

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    3. Tolerance isn't necessarily one of the hallmarks of wisdom. Many film companies are all about profit and they treat the public like cash cows.

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    4. But intolerance is one of the basic things that leads to man's inhumanity to man.

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    5. That's true but ironically it might be argued that it was tolerance that allowed the Nazis to rise to power. Remember that poem? "First they came for the socialists" by Martin Niemöller.

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  6. This sounds horrendous. We all know of and recognise the inhumanity that man was and still is capable of. To use it for entertainment is almost as bad as the acts portrayed. The producers will argue that such films are made to show our inhumanity. Porn shows folk bonking but few would argue it's desirable....Well maybe just a bit of porn....every now and again.
    Would you travel to Saudi Arabia to watch the live theatre that is beheading, amputation and stoning? Going to see such horror acted on film is much the same so I wouldn't contemplate doing either.

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    1. That is not the first time that such an argument has been made about holocaust films but "Son of Saul" is not gratuitous. It is visionary and Auschwitz is just a blurry context. No I wouldn't travel to Saudi Arabia to see a beheading but I would travel to Fife to deflate the tyres on your camper van.

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    2. I suppose YP that man's inhumanity to man has to start with small steps: letting someone's tyres down (because you disagree with them or gratuitously?) is a start I suppose. Next you'll be booing a football team and then what?

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    3. Then what? A small submarine in The Minch with torpedoes loaded.

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    4. Adrian would know that that remark was just a joke.

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    5. I thought it was the title of a porn movie. It should Submerged in the Minge would get some hits on YouTube.

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  7. I watched Son of Saul on the small screen via my Amazon doodad and it it was a film that will stay with me for a very long time. As you say, the focus is entirely on Saul as we catch glimpses of the hell he is in and try to imagine how those people must have felt. It is one of the most profound pieces of film-making I have ever seen.

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    1. "One of the most profound pieces of film-making I have ever seen". I agree Ian and am confused about the blinkers that some others are happy to don when the subject matter is uncomfortable or disturbing.

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    2. A kindred voyeur. Some of us have seen life and have no wish to see horror on a doodad or cinema screen.

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    3. So you wouldn't watch "Saving Private Ryan" or "Apocalypse Now" or "The Killing Fields" or "Schindler's List" or "Pearl Harbor" or "The Diary of Anne Frank" etc. etc.? What's left? "My Little Pony - The Movie"?

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    4. Well, I certainly wouldn't YP - see my reply to your comment above ! I'm not a cinema goer - not that we have one within miles anyway.

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  8. I'm sure it was a wonderful movie but I'm just not sure I could do it. Maybe I could. It's certainly important to remind ourselves of these truths.

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    1. It's your last sentence that gets my head nodding Steve.

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  9. I don't think my generation will forget, and it's important for future generations to be made aware.

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