Son of Saul is a Hungarian drama film directed by László Nemes. It is set in the Auschwitz -Birkenau concentration 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 with a macabre task: they have to burn the corpses of their own people.
Saul, performs his task with impassive expression, he seems anesthetised by all the horrors surrounding him. 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 remains always with him and rarely leaves 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.
We are immersed in that shocking situation, where, 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 the protagonist. The atrocities of the concentration camp are reflected on his face because they are too hellish to depict.
In an interview director Laszlo Nimes spoke of the first (shocking) sequence of the film and said he “wanted to establish immediately a visual approach to the film, starting with a blurred image and the viewer has to make something out of it. People usually are caught off guard and don’t understand why the focus is not good but we established that this film was going to be a close up with basically the portrait of one man”
The camera was handheld and all the positions were planned, “but as everything is moving it introduced a sort of chaos into the scene.” The viewers find themselves in a place they know well but that at the same time has never been shown like this, full of chaos and disorganisation . “This frenzy, these voices, the languages, the lack of information … everything is about death … but much is left to the viewers and their imagination… and they have to infer that this is a concentration camp. And we didn’t want to use usual signals, the signs, the obligatory Nazi flags or saluting officers … but to immerse the viewer in the situation. So it’s a chunk of reality: you catch things in the background but we basically wanted to introduce the character who is … part of the Sonderkommando section: the special group of prisoners that are forced to assist in the extermination and we see that this man is now almost a robot : he has no feelings”