THE SON OF SAUL, a Hungarian film that proposes to tell us about the concentration camps…
You say surely : “yes Yes, duty of memory, tragedy for humanity… But oh dear, the cinema ? Already seen it ! We know by heart !”
Well, the director László Nemes has been saying the same thing, and that is probably why he has been devoted to propose a breath-taking mise en scène (in the manner of the fabulous Crosswind released in February 2015), at the expense of some credibility through the realism of the film. What I want to say is that THE SON OF SAUL might make you wince if you stay attached to the idea of narrative logic. He is here to address the topic of concentration camps with completeness, and hence, make it a cold account of the inhumanity of absolute of the nazis, and the impact indelible of their actions on the Human, on History, on the collective consciousness.
But all of a sudden, to get there, THE SON OF SAUL uses an aesthetic that I was immediately spoken.
A scene that I think is, by its fluidity, its intensity and choreography of the video GAME. Explanations.
(To explain my point of view, I’m going to put temporarily aside the subject of the film, the genocide perpetrated by the nazis)
Video-playful ? Credibility ? Completeness ? Terms that may seem off-topic (when talking about the holocaust, yes) but that summarize but the impression I got from the film :
The aspect of the video game mentioned above comes from two things.
One, obvious : the choice of framing. 90% of the time, the camera takes up in the back of the character of Saul and filmed the clip, ensuring the immersion, while limiting the field of vision to that of a unique character. Immersion enhanced by the format 1.37 (image quasi-square), which reduces even more this point of view. A coherent choice, if a little easy (as already done by Dolan or Reichardt), which assimilates our experience of spectators at the fate of Saul.
The other element is a little more complex to translate… It is a defect and a quality, and in both cases it remains as a coherent choice of staging. It is a question of leadership. The same one that we can call the level design in the video game world.
Of Super Mario Bros to The Last of Us passing by Call of Duty – it is to take the player from the beginning to the end, and, between these two points, make him discover the story by chapters. Each chapter can therefore be a “world” in its own right, with its different features, objectives and gameplay.
A succession of precise, timed and inevitable of events is as well necessary to operate the set, to alternate between tension and calm, to ensure pace, interest and diversity. For example, the film Snowpiercer by Bong Joon Ho is built this way (each car is a universe), and the film of the Dardenne, 2 Days, 1 Night (the heroine needs to face a “boss”and his environment, to fail or succeed – in all cases take the Exp – and then face a new boss, etc)
The artistic direction and staging come there to integrate, to flesh out the universe and/or impress by their technical mastery.
This regimentation, if it can focus the viewer’s attention and mark it permanently, also imposes a appearance scripted to the work, implying that it is necessary to constantly move forward to unlock the next event – it introduces a new environment, a new mission, etc., The rhythm and “diversity” are thus assured… however, the credibility inevitably take a hit ; a certain predictability finally settled.
THE SON OF SAUL has these precise characteristics in terms of staging. They contribute to the shaping of a singular aesthetic in cinema that were thought to be incapable of surprising us.
Only difference : the interaction, which here is transmuted into stimulus, suggestion (successful !) and translates into notions of scenario, dialogue and interpretation (fairly failed).
That said, the desire to give meaning to the stage before we look at the story of the film is not free of charge. It seemed to me that by this particular language, sensory, THE SON OF SAUL could reach an audience that was still sealed about the holocaust. Not discrediting, but by printing any information. After all, 70 years of popular culture have largely dealt with the subject.
However, in the image of The List of Schindler , who used the language of empathy typical of Spielberg to mark indélébilement a public educated by E. T., Indiana Jones and other Jaws, I think THE SON OF SAUL was the work of a generation to remember, through a language that is “cinematic” singular, but not necessarily understandable by all, the horror of this period, the importance of memory, the need not to replicate these errors through our individual choices in everyday life.
In fact, THE SON OF SAUL observes with a clinical accuracy of these aspects of horrible camps, a component of the collective imagination.
The daily is truly scrutinized, dissected via a real review of aspects of the genocide : the quest of Saul will go through a number mind-blowing “goals”, each for a statement of fact, a disgust that is different :
Lead the crowd to the showers – The trains of beasts, the extermination, the moral issue of the Sonderkommando (see summary of the film)
Enter the office of the “fill” – medical experiments on the survivors,
meet with a section chief – the social organization of the massacre,
find a currency exchange – a looting of the dead,
find a rabbi – the opportunity to show the organization of the extermination,
retrieve the body of the son – confrontation and humiliation by the nazis,
find another rabbi – the opportunity to be immersed in a mass grave,
participate in an assault – the organization patient and desperate resistance (via a powerful scene of guerrilla warfare reminiscent of The Son of man… And a lot of games in GST)
The whole interplays with a great fluidity… Like in a video game.
It is at once exciting, because it is a point of view aesthetically unique – that is, only by the evocative power of the image, causes the viewer and encourage the memory of these baleful events.
In technical terms, THE SON OF SAUL , is a succession of clips to the realism undeniable !
But in addition, the director plays a lot with the off-field (of vision), via the sound and blur effects, depth-of-field.
Many things are suggested because of Saul, the same as the camera, focuses its attention and/or gaze on a specific target, an object, a character, a MacGuffin. The horror is present, but never filmed directly. It is even more disturbing.
This staging is explained, it remains Saul and his quest. It is for him to give a funeral ceremony decent to “his” son was gassed.
A quest totally desperate which is never really explained, nor justified, in making Saul a character hallucinated, almost mad, accentuating the character disturbing in the film.
“Presented with originality a subject again treated to the cinema ? It is successful. THE SON OF SAUL is a film that mark.”
In the end, László Nemes, by his direction, successful betting surprise on a subject again treated to the cinema.
His film immerses us in the daily life of a concentration camp, giving us to see with a distance, disturbing every aspect horrible accompanying a mass extermination.
Despite the lack of credibility of this course, its realism, its frantic pace and grueling completeness won their bet : THE SON OF SAUL is a film that permeates that brand.
AGREE ? NOT AGREE ?
+ Reconciliations between cinema and video Game
+ Movies selection official CANNES 2015
• Original title : SAul Fia
• Achievement : László Nemes
• Scenario : Clara Royer, László Nemes
• Main actors : Géza Röhrig, Molnar Levente, Urs Rechn
• Country of origin : Hungary
• Released : November 2015
• Duration : 1h47min
• Distributor : Ad Vitam
• Synopsis :In October 1944, At Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Saul Ausländer is a member of the Sonderkommando, the group of jewish prisoners isolated from the rest of the camp and forced to assist the nazis in their plan of extermination. He works in one of the crematoriums, when he discovers the corpse of a boy in the traits which he recognizes his son. So that the Sonderkommando was preparing a revolt, he decides to accomplish the impossible : save the body of the child of flame and give him a real burial.