The harrowing Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” offering unflinching depictions of the gas chambers of Auschwitz, claimed the runner-up Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. Hungarian director László Nemes’s work is the first debut film (Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”) to be given the Palme in twenty-six years.
The film was also awarded the FIPRESCI Prize in the main competition section, the François Chalais Prize and the Vulcan Award at the festival.
“Son of Saul is set in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944, and one Hungarian Jewish prisoner named Saul (played by Géza Röhrig) is a member of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners given humiliating and illusory privileges as trusties, with minor increases in food ration in return for their carrying the bodies from the gas chambers to pyres to be burned, then carting the ashes away to be dumped. The task is carried out at a frantic, ever-accelerating rate around the clock, as the Allies close in. Among the dead, Saul discovers the body of his young son, and sets out to find a rabbi among the prisoners to give the boy a proper burial in secret, using pleas, threats, blackmail and bribes – with jewellery (called the “shiny”) that he steals from the bodies – to achieve his aim. Saul’s desperate mission is carried out with the same urgent, hoarse whispers and mutterings as another plot in progress: a planned uprising, which Saul’s intentions may upset. And all the time, the Sonderkommando are aware, through this network of whispers, that they themselves will be executed in due course by their Nazi captors”, critic Peter Bradshaw wrote in praise of the extraordinary debut film in The Guardian, describing the movie as “outstanding, excoriating and astonishing”.
The film’s script was prepared by the author in cooperation with the French writer Clara Royer during the five months he spent in Paris starting from March 2011 on a scholarship. The film plan was awarded the Living Pictures prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival in the summer of 2012, and its final version was produced with financial and professional assistance from the Hungarian National Film Fund, which contributed a total of HUF 310.6 million to its production.
The film includes a number of foreign actors – from Germany, Poland, the United States and Israel – on its cast. It was shot largely at a Budapest location and the Mafilm atelier in the capital. Buildings at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp that have since been demolished were reconstructed on the basis of photographs and historical research.
via guardian.co.uk and timesofisrael.com