• Second viewing of László Nemes’ debut film was a stirring revelation  
  • I think the key to this film (and with my own struggle with the first viewing) here is by talking about the two definitions of aesthetic. There’s the adjective “aesthetic”- concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty—which Son of Saul is devoid of almost completely (on purpose- which I’ll get to later)- then there is the noun “aesthetic”- a set of principals underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement and that is where Son of Saul lands with of the greatest cinematic achievements of 2015. It may not be pleasing to your eyes and ears (Breaking the Waves from von Trier isn’t either always) but it is an artistic triumph nonetheless—both formally and intellectually
  • Starts with a blurred opening image that shifts into soft focus when Géza Röhrig (playing Saul) comes into view of the camera. The decision to shoot in soft focus  and have camera sitting right on his shoulder or neck is carried out for the duration of the work- an inspired, rigidly formal, stylistic choice. The tight aspect ratio –1.375:1– fits that attempt as well.
Starts with a blurred opening image that shifts into soft focus when Géza Röhrig (playing Saul) comes into view of the camera. The decision to shoot in soft focus  and have camera sitting right on his shoulder or neck is carried out for the duration of the work- an inspired, rigidly formal, stylistic choice
  • The sound design is meticulous as well and purposeful, designed not to be beautiful or dramatic– but authentic to Saul’s world- his point of view—ambient noise, claustrophobic, ghastly screams, humanities ugliest, speaking in whispers
a remarkable debut – one of the 21st century’s finest- confident and experiment
  • The point of view camerawork (attached to his shoulder or tethered closely to him) predates (and I’m sure inspired) Aronofsky’s Mother! in 2017 (Aronofsky experiments with POV in other works including the reverse head harness POV in several films used by Scorsese in the Rubber Biscuit scene with Keitel in Mean Streets).  It is on Saul’s shoulder or the nape of the neck cinema if you will. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant seems like an important text as Van Sant’s camera is like a ghost tracking these characters a few paces behind. I just watched Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake which is a film shot in the first person POV—this inventiveness seems like a cousin to the long-take or one-take efforts and
  • achievements in the 2010’s of Gravity, Birdman, 1917, Victoria or even Russian Ark from the decade before and Rope back in 1948 from Hitchcock- ambitious cinema
  • Saul has an X on his back, both a symbol of his position as Sonderkommando and a constant horrific reminder of his inevitable fate
  • The narrative is simple like Bicycle Thieves (another important text to this film here)- a proper burial for the body of the boy, find a Rabbi—and Saul is possessed and determined in his task (a dogged determination mirrors by Nemes in his approach)
The narrative is simple like Bicycle Thieves (another important text to this film here)- a proper burial for the body of the boy, find a Rabbi—and Saul is possessed and determined in his task (a dogged determination mirrors by Nemes in his approach)
  • It is avant-garde, experimental, confident
  • Unpleasant on purpose- skewing conventional drama—I didn’t see it until after but it did not surprise me that Nemes, his DP and production designer had a dogma or set of rules similar to the von Trier movement in the 1990’s—here the goal was not to make a horror film, not to make it beautiful or pleasing or the eye or ear, to stay within a certain field of vision on this journey – and it succeeds, you are with Saul in this living hell (Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero a precursor- realism and neorealism)—Nemes cites Come and See and the atrocities there as an important work
  • the entire film is suffocating and visceral- but the scene of Saul heading to the pit is particularly bleak- a baby crying, gunshots, screams, flood lights are in your eyes—harrowing
  • ends on a smile as the boy makes his way into the forest
  • Nemes worked on Bela Tarr’s The Man From London as an assistant though I do think he’s far more of a realist (the long takes from Tarr are present here)—this is more Dardenne brothers’ realism than Tarr
  • A Must-See film at least- could go higher with more time and/or study