Last night I went to the cinema, to watch a Hungarian film that left me confused. It wasn’t the first Holocaust drama I had seen and I said to myself that I didn’t like it: too claustrophobic, too devastating and terrifying.
But today I find myself unable to stop thinking of it.
Son of Saul is set in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau death camp in 1944 and follows a day-and-a-half in the life of Saul , a Jewish- Hungarian prisoner, member of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners forced to burn the corpses of their own people.
Saul, performs his task with impassive expression, he seems anesthetised by all those horrors. But he finds a sense of purpose when he tries to save from the flames the body of a boy he claims to be his son. He may or may not be, that is not relevant, but that represents an opportunity to achieve a sense of redemption, to find some meaning in a place of meaningless evil.
The obscured, enclosed setting, so grimly intense, is what Saul sees. The camera stays always with him, faithfully. His face, his hollowed eyes expressing weary detachment, are sharp in the foreground, while the rest, bodies, pyres, terrible suffering are but blurred shapes around him.
If our field of vision is narrowed, the sounds are amplified: human voices in several languages, dogs barking, babies crying, gunshots, suggest what is happening around him.
And now I cannot stop thinking of the atrocities of that concentration camp, reflected on Saul’s face because they are too hellish to depict.