Son of Saul Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn
  • Director: László Nemes
  • Format: Subtitled
  • Language: Hungarian
  • Subtitles: French, Portuguese, Spanish, English
  • Audio Description: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R                                  
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: April 26, 2016
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: December 31, 2019
  • Run Time: 107 minutes

  •         Nearly every year there seems to be a Holocaust film competing (often successfully) for award-season recognition. Last year it was Poland’s Ida that won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, and this year Son of Saul received the same accommodation for Hungary. Although there have been countless Holocaust films to win this award, this was only the second time a film from Hungary has won an Oscar, and the first time winning a Golden Globe. Skeptics might automatically assume that the subject matter alone was enough to earn this honor, but Son of Saul is a technically meticulous piece of filmmaking deserving of endless praise.


            The simplicity of the narrative in Son of Saul allows for the filmmaking focus to remain on approach, which is ambitious without every becoming flashy enough to overshadow the power of the subject. In a series of precise tracking shots, the camera remains tied to the title protagonist, Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig). Saul is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners forced to help the Nazis in the dirtier tasks involved with the genocide of their own people. Tasked with corralling victims into the gas chambers, Saul approaches the job with a necessary disconnection until witnessing the death of a small boy who initially survived the poisonous gas, claiming the child as his own. Determined to give the young victim of the extermination camp a proper burial, Saul begins a dangerous covert mission to steal the boy’s corpse.


            With an extremely narrow depth of field keeping little beyond our protagonist in focus and an unconventional Academy aspect ratio, Son of Saul is claustrophobic in the way it limits the audience’s perspective of the events. We remain tied to Saul in his desperate mission, tracking him through the daily routine at the extermination camp. Stylistically, the cinematography is somewhat similar to Birdman, within a narrative aligning closer to Schindler’s List. The precise technical choices are effective without calling attention to the filmmaking, including a soundtrack that is so subtle that it may go unnoticed by many. And though there are certainly some harrowing moments of Holocaust atrocities, first-time filmmaker László Nemes wisely refrains from making this the focus of his narrative. What we do see of the violence is mostly out of focus, though the sound mixing for the film is effective in bringing us into this world in a far more haunting fashion. We have seen these horrors onscreen enough times that merely including an effective soundtrack of the violence is enough to engage the audience’s imagination.


            Although Röhrig’s experience as an actor was limited prior to this film, his performance is what binds the narrative together with the filmmaking style. Much of the movie relies upon his subtle reaction to events. With the cinematography limiting what the audience sees, we rely upon Saul to be our eyes; we react to his reaction of events. For this reason and many more, it makes sense that Röhrig, Nemes and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély participated in a Q&A at the Museum of Tolerance, which is included as a special feature exclusive to the Blu-ray disc. Also included is a commentary track with all three. The Blu-ray release also comes with a Digital HD copy of the film.  


    Entertainment Value: 7.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 10/10

    Historical Significance:  10/10

    Special Features: 8/10



    No comments: