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Cannes: Holocaust Thriller ‘Son of Saul’ Is the Competition’s First Sensation (Reviews)

Cannes: Holocaust Thriller 'Son of Saul' Is the Competition's First Sensation (Reviews)

With his first feature, the Holocaust thriller “Son of Saul,” Hungarian director László Nemes—a protégé of acclaimed countryman Bela Tarr—has emerged as the first sensation of Cannes 2015, with Time Out’s global film editor Dave Calhoun calling it an early contender for the Palme d’Or.

Set in Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the film, which premiered in competition today, has already drawn high praise for its harrowing, tightly focused portrait of Saul (Geza Rohrig), a Jewish prisoner—responsible for clearing the victims’ bodies from the gas chambers—who claims to discover his own son’s corpse in this unthinkable human wreckage. Dispensing with familiar images of the Nazis’ war crimes in favor of immersive, visceral action and multifaceted sound design, “Son of Saul” holds close to its protagonist over the course of a single 24-hour period in 1944. Devastating without being overstated, unflinching yet unwilling to engage in what Sight & Sound’s Nick James calls “holocaust porn,” “Son of Saul” may not be sensationalized, but it’s already causing a sensation on La Croisette.  

Read excerpts from initial reviews of “Son of Saul” below, and watch a first clip at The Film Stage:

Eric Kohn, Indiewire
“A remarkable refashioning of the Holocaust drama that reignites the
setting with extraordinary immediacy, ‘Son of Saul’ is both terrifying
to watch and too gripping in its moment-to-moment to look away. Nemes’
ability to inject the material of a concentration camp survival story —
which, sadly, now carries the baggage of countless sentimental clichés —
with bracing cinematic energy is all the more impressive because it’s
the writer-director’s first feature
.”

Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter
Utterly uneasy to watch but strikingly and confidently assembled, the
film’s a powerful aural and visual experience that doesn’t quite manage
to sustain itself over the course of its running time but is a
remarkable — and remarkably intense — experience nonetheless.”

Dave Calhoun, Time Out

“It’s impossible not to see ‘Son of Saul’ as a corrective to past
stories that have imposed a neat order (or worse) on such
incomprehensible events. Nemes does that too, of course, simply by
making this film – but he does so in a way that makes us think of these
events afresh. Partly that comes from how his story inhabits the moral
minefield of the Sonderkommando, meaning that words such as victim and
perpetrator start to shed their meaning and usefulness. He also does so
by harnessing cinema at its most powerful, artful and stimulating.”

Nick James, Sight & Sound
“Nemes goes out of his way — to the extent of having big choreographed
epic scenes of huge crowds, vehicles, costumes, gas ovens, burnings and
all sorts of vileness going on only at the edges of the frame — to avoid
what we might call holocaust porn, those films that seek solace in the
iconography of sacrifice and in the anti-glamour of concentration-camp
tourism.”

Jonathan Romney, Screen International
“‘Son of Saul’… represents a
serious attempt to rethink the visual codes of depicting the atrocities
of the Shoah – events that have, in the last three decades, been
increasingly often represented in cinema, arguably to the point of
devaluation.”

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