‘Son of Saul,” the Hungarian Holocaust drama from first-time feature director László Nemes, has sensationally won the Academy Award for best foreign language film.
Mr. Nemes claimed the prize at the annual Oscar ceremony Sunday night in Los Angeles.
“Even in the darkest hours of mankind, there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human. That’s the hope of this film,” he said while accepting the first win for Hungary since the early Eighties.
Having received the prize from Li Bjonghon and Sofia Vergara, the director thanked Hungary for financing his work and offered the prize to protagonist Géza Röhrig and his crew for believing in the movie when nobody else did.
“Son of Saul” is the second straight Holocaust film to win in the foreign film category. In 2015, “Ida,” about a young soon-to-be nun who learns her parents were Jews killed during World War II, won for Poland.
Set in Auschwitz in 1944, “Son of Saul” tells the story of a Jewish inmate forced to escort his fellow prisoners to the gas chambers and help to dispose of their remains. In October 1944, Saul Ausländer is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners forced to lead other inmates in Auschwitz-Birkenau to their deaths and dispose of their bodies in the crematoriums. One day, Saul finds a young boy and, taking him for his son, tries to arrange for a proper Jewish funeral for him. The title role is played by Géza Röhrig, a Hungarian poet and observant Jew who now lives in New York.
Photo: Chris Pizzello/AP
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 Claims Conference and 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.
“Son of Saul” is the first Hungarian feature-length film to be nominated for the prize since 1981, and the first winner since István Szabó’s “Mephisto” took the award in 1981.
Te film was heavily favoured to win the Oscar, having already claimed the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in May and the Golden Globe for best foreign film in January. On Saturday, it won the prize for best international film at the Independent Spirit Awards in Los Angeles.