Telluride 42: “Son of Saul” with director and actor

“Son of Saul” is a powerful and often shattering Hungarian film about a Saul, a sonderkommando, responsible for cleaning out the concentration camp showers. This film which received the runner-up Grand Prix at Cannes, is a remarkable debut for director Laszlo Nemes who co-write the screenplay.

Géza Röhrig in "Son of Saul"

Géza Röhrig in “Son of Saul”

The film has a unique visual style. Often the images behind Saul (Géza Röhrig) are blurred, reflecting how he has had to block out what’s happening around him in order to survive. Saul’s actions in cleaning out the camp showers are shown to devastating effect. The focus of the film remains on Saul.

Géza Röhrig gives a masterful and often intense performance as Saul. Saul sees the body of a boy he may remember and desperately tries to have a rabbi give funeral prayers. Someone says “We’re already dead.” “Son of Saul” remains an indelible experience.

At the Telluride Film Fesival, director Laszlo Nemes and Géza Röhrig, lead actor of “Son of Saul”, appeared at a wide-ranging outdoor discussion with Meryl Streep and representatives from “Spotlight”. Röhrig was introduced as a poet.

Laszlo Nemes and  Géza Röhrig  at Telluride

Laszlo Nemes and Géza Röhrig at Telluride

Nemes said that he did not want to “show too much” in “Son of Saul”, to “give something to view” of “a visceral experience not common in cinematic form” that would be “at the heart of human experience.”

He added that he wanted the film to be “immersive” and “hypnotic”, by keeping the camera “so close to the main character.”

Röhrig described “mainstream” films on the Holocaust as a “falsification, at worst melodramatic”. He added that most of these films center on “survival tales” which were “an anomaly.” He said these films are “so stereotypical” and full of clichés that he called “Holocaust trash”.

Lazlo Nemes and  Géza Röhrig  at Telluride

Lazlo Nemes and Géza Röhrig at Telluride

Röhrig said that most sonderkommandos like Saul would clean the gas chamber and burn the bodies of the victims for a “better food ratio” and to be able to wear their hair long. He said that every 3 or 4 months these sonderkommando were liquidated.

He spoke about “genocide happening in Yemen, Syria, northwest Iraq” from ISIS, adding that “70 years pass and we haven’t learned a bit, governments condemn and can’t stop” the mass killing.

Nemes described cinema as an “intense medium to speak to the subject of what it means to be a human being in the middle of” the tragedy of the concentration camp. He wanted to “explore the subjectivity of it”, adding that “to create empathy was our hope.”