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.