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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Son of Saul is a Hungarian film with English subtitles that takes place in Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. While the brutal story is told almost entirely through the eyes of one Jewish inmate, the magnitude of the crimes against all those imprisoned there is made very real. Most of the violence takes place either off camera or in the background of the film's frames, but the full impact of the atrocities comes from the sounds of terror and chaos that accompany the visual images. Inmates are brutally manhandled, forced to strip, shot, gassed, and burned to death. Fear is omnipresent. Nudity (including full-frontal nakedness) is shown as people are rounded up on their way to their deaths and as their dead bodies are retrieved. This movie succeeds in projecting some of the harshest realities of genocide; it's at the very least a cautionary tale. What's more, because of the talent of both filmmakers and the lead actor, it feels like a most accurate depiction of what may have happened during two days in October 1944. Winner of an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 2015, as well as more than 50 other prestigious awards, it's a movie that demands to be seen -- but not by kids.
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What's the story?
Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig) is a Sonderkommando in the Auschwitz death camp in October 1944 in SON OF SAUL. Sonderkommandos, Jewish prisoners forced to perform grisly and mind-numbing tasks, knew that they, too, would be executed in short order. Saul's duties are to assist in removing bodies from the gas chambers, search for valuables among the victims' clothes and possessions, and clean up the anteroom before the next terrified Jews arrive for mass slaughter. His mind and spirit already broken, Saul finds a still-breathing boy among the fallen. Though the child dies soon afterward, Saul decides that he must, above all else, provide this one innocent with a traditional Jewish blessing and burial. Driven by renewed energy and purpose, Saul risks his life over and over again to find a rabbi and lay the boy whom he proclaims his "son" to rest. At the same time, some of Saul's closest inmate brethren are planning an escape. Saul's obsession compromises their efforts. The two events collide amid heartbreaking chaos, danger, and merciless acts of cruelty.
Is it any good?
The full devastation of genocide, incomparable acts of cruelty, and humanity's ability to adapt to horror play out in the face of one man in this stunning, remarkable film. Other films have captured the Holocaust's atrocities and magnitude of heartlessness, but Son of Saul brings the more private moments of ravaged minds and souls to bear. The brilliance of Lazlo Nemes and his team comes from keeping Saul -- his face, his body, his point of view -- at the center of all (Rohrig's performance is shockingly real). While around him naked bodies are being dragged from the gas chamber to the ovens, while on the fringes of the frame his fellow prisoners go through the countless shoes, clothes, and personal effects of the victims, Nemes' camera is on Saul. And Saul is a study in the art of living while already dead. Some of the most savage acts happen mostly off camera or on the fringes of the shots, including the lengthy sequence of mass killing that takes place at the "pits" when the gas chambers are too crowded, which may be one of the most disturbing events in all cinema. This multiple award-winning film is hard to watch, and even harder to forget. Not for kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how director Lazla Nemes portrayed the horrors of Auschwitz while showing little direct violence in Son of Saul. How did he and his team use techniques such as sound effects, soft focus, and close-up reactions of Saul to recreate what would have been unfilmable and too graphic for audiences? Do you think the movie succeeded in evoking the grim reality of the camp?
Whether or not the dead boy was Saul's son was a question the movie raised. Did the identity of the boy matter? Why, or why not? What did he symbolize for Saul?
Think about both the relative absence of dialogue and color in this film. What did the filmmakers use instead of words to convey story and emotion? How did the colors used contribute to the overall character of the movie?
- In theaters: December 18, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: April 26, 2016
- Cast: Geza Rohrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn
- Director: Lazlo Nemes
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Disturbing violent content and some graphic nudity
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
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