Foreign film is a genre that I am exploring more and more as a cinema goer. I really don’t even categorize these subtitled films differently as the only real difference they have are the stories they tell. Often these stories are very eye opening in terms of culture or history. ‘Son of Saul’ is the fourth foreign language film I’ve seen this year. I wish that this number would have been higher, there have certainly been three or four which I had hoped to see but just didn’t catch in the cinema. The fact that ‘Son of Saul’ won the Oscar for best foreign film meant that I for sure wasn’t missing it!
The film follows one man’s, Saul, experience within a concentration camp during the Holocaust. The film is shot in such a way that the viewer is almost always watching a close up of Saul or at least him and his immediate surroundings. This technique was carried out throughout the film and was done so with a consistent quality. Due to this the actor playing Saul, Géza Röhrig, had absolutely nowhere to hide. His performance felt so natural that it wasn’t really until after the film that I actually appreciated it, from my perspective this man was Saul and he was genuinely in a concentration camp. Whilst this technique of filming certainly did showcase the strength and skill of the filmmakers I found it hard at times to engage with the events fully. Due to the close up nature of most of the shots the audience rarely gets a look at what is going on around Saul. At times it would have been good to see what Saul was seeing and as we never really got to see this I found the film a little frustrating at times. However, the advantage to this was that the horrors of the concentration camp are never focused on and are captured in an appropriate manner. In addition to this I thought that the film brought a real reality to the Holocaust, one which I had never felt before despite learning and reading about it and actually having visited Auschwitz myself.
The camera work wasn’t the only element to the film that prevented me from engaging with it. I found the narrative a little hard to follow at times. My main issue with this was not really knowing who all the characters were and what roles they held. It took me quite a while to work out who everyone was despite a short amount of context being given before the film. What would have helped me would have been a slightly longer amount of time being given to process the information. The film is fairly bare in terms of variety in its shots, editing and music and I thought this was both a good and a bad thing. I liked it in one way as I thought a gushing score would have dramatised this period of history in a way that it shouldn’t require. However being a film fan who is used to dramatic soundtracks and different shots with sequences of fast paced editing I did find parts of the film hard to stick with. This isn’t a fault of the film really, more so my uncultured experience of film but nonetheless I found that it did effect my enjoyment of the film.
So whilst ‘Son of Saul’ really wasn’t my kind of film I can see why others rate it so highly. Bringing a harsh reality to the Holocaust and with an astonishingly good performance from Géza Röhrig these elements alone are enough to praise it for. It was the bleakness that the rest of the film carried which meant it was hard for me to engage with it. Alongside this a little confusion on my part and frustration at the camera work meant that I didn’t really like the film. Despite this I appreciated a lot of what the film achieves and I expect that as both I and the film age that I will learn to appreciate it more than I did upon my first viewing.
Rating – 7/10
Question: What film have you recognised as being good but not personally liked?
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