Review: Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes)

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Writing a review of Son of Saul is no easy task. First and foremost it must be said that this is, for me , one of the must see films of 2016. However it must also be stated that is in no way an enjoyable or easy watch.

The film depicts two days in the life of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando. These men not only have to endure living in one of the Nazi camps but have the task of staffing the camps, helping in the process of  genocide by carrying out the menial tasks for their overlords. The herding of prisoners, the searching and destruction of their clothes and the burning of their bodies all fall to them.

Saul is in a living hell, a place where the screams and fruitless thuds on gas chamber doors haunt the camp and souls of all the Sonderkommando. After witnessing the death of a young Jewish boy, Saul sets about attempting to bury the corpse and find a rabbi in order to give the boy a ‘proper’ funeral and attempt to restore some dignity.

Throughout the film we are on Saul’s shoulder, the camera following him through all the horror and devastation that surrounds him. We as the audience are the muted conscience. Witnessing everything as Saul does but unable to tell him to stop or fight. Saul himself is an emotionless vessel. Worn down by staffing the camps, for what we assume to be,  a period of time he has no emotion left. This is understandable, this is his coping mechanism. In fact it is until the film’s climax where the emotionless expression cracks.

While we spend our time on Saul’s shoulder the audience is protected to some extent. Most of what is surrounding Saul is blurred out, no events are hidden rather inference takes the lead. I have to say inference is the viewer’s friend as if we were to watch this film directly through the eyes of Saul  it would not be unable to escape and 18 classification here in the UK.

In regard to the certification I feel a 15 certification is appropriate and important. This classification will allow a slightly younger audience see this film. It allows them to see the horror of that period. To see the worst of humanity and to see how humanity survives in the worst of circumstances.

This is not just a historical piece. This film also has an inescapable relevance.

When we consider events in Syria and the displacement of so many people it is clear that humanity is still capable of despicable acts. Given the reaction to the migrant crisis in certain quarters it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

I have no issue in recommending Son of Saul. It is a harrowing experience. It is not easy to watch at points. This however is a film that needs to be watched.

It needs to be watched in order to remind us of the past and to make us intentional about our future.

Son of Saul is in cinemas from 29th April 

 

 

 

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Review: Testament of Youth

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Testament of Youth is based on memoir of Vera Brittain cited by many as the voice of a generation and perfectly encapsulating life before, during and after World War I.

I’m not normally a fan of period dramas or for that matter war films. Testament of Youth however is a welcome change and indeed an eye opener to the realities of WWI through the eyes of a young Brittain, played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander.

Throughout the film Vera challenges the stereotypes of her day, studying at Oxford and then as so many of her era signing up to join the war effort. However Vera’s perspective is refreshingly different for the viewer as she signs up as a nurse and tending to the wounded on both sides of the conflict. It was a pleasing change to not head to the front lines as is so often the case in these films although I can categorrically state that the film loses no impact for this.

The scenes of Vera tending to German solidiers is genuinely touching. This is no glorification of the British effort as is so often the case. The sequences in which Vera deals with injured German soldiers are heartbreaking. The conflict in her character is tangible on the realisation of what she must do. However after short contemplation the triumph of humanity is displayed, love for neighbour winning out over and above predisposed  positions and prejudices.

The film does not hold back in depciting the grime of the war. You can feel every squelch of mud as Vera makes her way across base camps. Sequences showing those in the trenches covered in mud staring down the barrel of the camera and ultimately their destinies as the voice over tells their tale in letters to loved ones are hard to forget. Not to mention the many graphic injuries that the viewer is faced with.

All these elements hammer home that the war was no glamarous venture a fact whihc is sadly lacking  in today’s Call of Duty gaming age.

This is not a cut and dry love story. That is merely a fraction of what is involved in this film. Scrape the surface and there is much more to be found.

Vera Brittain was not a typical woman of her time. Testament of Youth is not a typical period drama war film.

*Testament of Youth is now available on Netflix