Son of Saul, the Hungarian nominee by first-time feature director László Nemes, depicts the moral and physical struggle of Saul, a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz forced to work in a sonderkommando unit, aiding with the disposal of bodies from the gas chambers.
Formally riveting, emotionally shattering, and astonishingly confident, Son of Saul stands above so many of its peers because it is, in fact, only partly about the Holocaust. It is just as concerned with turning its eye back to the audience, forcing us to reflect on our own cultural obsession with the horrors of the Final Solution. It is, in other words, a Holocaust movie about Holocaust movies.
What Son of Saul offers is all any movie about the Holocaust can offer, self-consciously or not: a particular, sculpted experience. Nemes’s work resonates because it is so visceral, observant, and above all, self-aware: This remarkably assured director knows exactly what history he is inserting himself (and Saul) into, and why artists and audiences remain both haunted and possessed to create new images of the camps.