Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)
From the opening, an out of focus long take that slowly adjusts its gaze on Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) as he follows an incoming transport of Jewish people into a gas chamber at Auschwitz, it’s easy to see that László Nemes’ Holocaust film will be deeply intimate. SON OF SAUL strives for authenticity in its historical source material with its unflinching portrayal of the atrocities committed during World War II. Saul works as a member of the Sonderkommando (a group of prisoners tasked with sorting through incoming prisoners goods, cleaning out gas chambers, and disposing of human remains). While at hand with his duties, he discovers the body of a boy he believes to be his son and sets out to find a rabbi so that he can give the boy a proper burial. Nemes’ mise-en-scène only focuses on Saul, framing him almost entirely in close up shots while the peripheries are blurred due to the shallow focus employed. These tight frames and close angles show that the film is solely invested in Saul’s personal hell. There is no reprieve from the despair. Truthfully, this technique ponders the question of how many other fascinating, individual stories are occurring just off frame. Röhrig’s performance is exceptional in portraying a man who is so dead inside, with nothing but a few words and a thousand yard stare. Despite the myriad of abuses Saul is subjected to, he remains steadfast in his goal to bury the boy he believes to be his son; an apt metaphor for the nearly impossible task of remaining hopeful and willing to stay alive during a time when hope was nowhere to be found for so many. SON OF SAUL is a harrowing, cinematic tour de force on one of history’s deplorable chapters.