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Son of Saul | 2016 | R | - 5.7.5

In October 1944 a Hungarian Jewish prisoner (Géza Röhrig) works in the Auschwitz death camp as a Sonderkommando collaborator: he leads fellow Jews to the gas chambers and plunders their possessions for the Nazis. He watches a boy die and thinking it is his own son he takes the body, and frantically searches for a rabbi for a secret burial while his fellow workers plan to blow up the crematorium. Also with Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Sándor Zsótér, Todd Charmont, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Kamil Dobrowolski and Amitai Kedar. Directed by László Nemes. In Hungarian, Yiddish, German, Polish and French with and without English subtitles. [1:47]

SEX/NUDITY 5 - Piles of blurry, nude dead bodies in a gas chamber reveal buttocks, the bare chests of men and a few bare breasts of women, as well as pubic hair (no genitals are seen). We see a bare female breast and nipple at the top of a pile of bodies. A man is dragging away a nude man lying face up as we see frontal nudity (no genitals are seen). Two male bodies and one female body are placed onto furnace chutes for cremation and we see the woman's pubic hair and breasts. A long shot at a river shows a somewhat blurry image of a pile of dead nude bodies, where we see patches of pubic hair (gender indistinguishable). Blurry images of dozens of nude male and female prisoners in the background behind close-ups of a clothed man are seen in several scenes; we see bare backs and a few blurry buttocks (gender indistinguishable) and a few of these scenes show nude dead bodies with dark patches of pubic hair visible along with the genitals of two men and a few blurry nude women lie dead. A group of nude women run across the screen, bunched together and covering their chests with their arms in a few scenes. A close-up of the backsides of nude male and female prisoners at a river feature bare backs and buttocks. Several close-ups include nude adults running in a line and through a door. Several men appear shirtless as they shovel coal into a large furnaces.
 A man goes to a warehouse to see a female worker for a message and the matron there tells them, "No touching"; the man and woman stare intently at each other for several seconds and when she passes him a small cloth bag she holds his hand briefly, but he breaks away sharply and leaves.


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VIOLENCE/GORE 7 - We hear gasping, gagging and whimpering and see the chest and head of a 10-year-old boy gasping for breath; he is lifted and placed on a table, where a Nazi wearing a white coat over his uniform punches the boy's nose and mouth to kill him, then says, "Open him up (autopsy)," and "bring it to my room" (he calls dead Jews "it" and "pieces").
 A man covers a dead boy with a large cloth and carries him to a lab where we see a few dead nude bodies (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details) along the way, with some blood on chests; a doctor-prisoner in the lab wears a yellowed lab coat covered in blood and old blood stains across the chest and cuffs and we see a male body on a table with one forearm missing and we see stumps of bloody bone; his legs have been cut off at the knees, also showing stumps of bloody bone.
 Men and women are herded into a shower (actually a gas chamber) with promises of food and jobs after their showers and we hear slapping off-screen; the heavy door shuts and we hear men shouting and women screaming inside along with pounding on the inside of the door and the screams become louder and louder until the screen goes black and silent; the next scene is a close-up of a few men scrubbing blood stains from the gas chamber floor and we hear spitting and gagging, but see no spit.
 A man says that the ovens are full as a work unit marches to a line of large fire pits that emit tall yellow flames; newly arrived prisoners are forced to remove clothing (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details) and stand at the edge of the pits in the background as we hear shouting, screaming, gunfire and dogs barking off-screen and we see prisoners fall forward into the pits and the flames rise higher. A young boy peeks inside a cabin where escapees are hiding, then runs away, but a Nazi soldier grabs and holds him until a unit of armed soldiers runs past with rifles ready and we hear gun shots off-screen, implying that the men hiding in the building were killed. A pile of bodies beside a river is burned and a man yells, "Too much smoke!" Nazis and prisoner-workers put on cloth masks across their noses as the screen fills with smoke and the camera cuts to a close-up of a shovel digging into a pile of human ashes and then to a man shoveling the ashes from a cart into a river. In a dimly lit room of furnaces, a man shouts, "Burn the pieces !" as men load a body onto each of three chutes and push the bodies into glowing furnace openings. We see prisoner-workers fall dead near a crematorium as another group of prisoner-workers escape; one man carries a boy's body through the woods and tries to bury it but cannot dig fast (Nazis are chasing them) so they swim in a river nearby with other escapees and the body floats away.
 Many prisoners arrive in the middle of the night and other men work on leading them to gas chambers and sorting their belongings until small bombs begin to explode outside: we see puffs of dirt and smoke and some flashes of sparks, a Nazi shoots and kills a man and a woman as soon as they leave a prisoner's train car (they fall and there is no blood) and we hear more shooting off-screen along with dogs barking, shouting and an air raid siren. A group of death camp escapees runs through woods, panting and gasping, until the men arrive at an empty barn-like log building and hide inside (one man's shirt is soaked in blood and some blood appears on his leg).
 The camera follows a dirty, ragged male concentration camp prisoner in close-up for approximately 36 hours in which the man does not sleep, but works constantly leading other prisoners to gas chambers, removing valuables from their possessions, shoveling coal into crematorium furnaces, and shoveling human ashes into a river; the man has a seeping open sore on his lower lip, and an opening caption states that he and other Sonderkommando prisoner-workers in the death camp work only a few months and are then are killed and replaced. A soldier drags a man across the background and off-screen as train cattle cars arrive, full of men and women. A man leads prisoners to gas chambers that he calls "showers" while we hear police whistles, gunfire, women crying, German phrases shouted by a man and the sounds of a fist punching a person off-screen.
 A Nazi soldier punches a male prisoner in the stomach and the victim gasps and bends over in pain. A prisoner that is a leader of a work unit punches another man in the stomach and he doubles up in pain, grunting. A Nazi officer punches a man in the stomach, he doubles over, and the officer pulls him up and makes him dance a Jewish dance after mocking him. In a crowd scene of prisoners, a worker pushes another worker and yells, "Leave me alone!" A prisoner work-crew leader swings a nightstick threateningly at workers and in another scene he beats a man that is below the screen and we hear grunting.
 A man carries a boy's body wrapped in a large cloth into a corridor and behind a curtain where he places the boy on a mat, then another man uncovers the boy's head and chest to wash him from a basin of water until other inmates arrive and an argument begins. Male inmate workers argue and a man tells another man to go wash because, "You stink!" A man chants a Yiddish prayer and a rabbi claps a hand over the man's mouth, and then walks into a river, followed by the other man; Nazi soldiers pull the men from the water and question them, then release one man to work as they take the other man away. A prisoner-worker hears a Nazi order the prisoner's work leader to write out 70 names of men in the work unit to kill; the prisoner alerts the others in the work unit, they plan to escape and one man says, "We'll die," to which another man replies, "We're already dead." A man says that weapons are being gathered and a crematorium will be destroyed.
 Prison inmate workers sort through hundreds of dead Jews' clothing and valuables, throwing ID papers into a box and collecting coins, jewelry, watches and similar items into other boxes for the Nazis; inmates find some food and stuff it into their mouths quickly. A prisoner-worker searches bodies covered with large cloths and does not find a person he is searching for (we see the pale dead faces and shoulders of a few men).
 Throughout the film, background noises include Germans shouting, gunfire, dogs barking, screams, some air raid sirens and occasional sounds of punching and slapping. A large pile of prisoners' confiscated belongings crashes loudly to the floor of a warehouse off-screen and a matron runs off-screen, shouting at women to pick it up.
 A work unit runs back to death camp barracks and lines up for roll call as numbers are called instead of names and we see a line of gas masks hung on a wall. Several death camp prisoner-workers wear big red Xs on the back of their jackets or vests; they are unshaven, grimy, sweaty and their quarters are seen with badly stained walls and a hard floor, with some curtains as partitions and some sleeping mats.


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LANGUAGE 5 - At least 1 F-word, 1 scatological term, 5 mild obscenities, name-calling (swine, scum, stupid, butcher, vermin, filthy, thief, pieces [dead prisoners], Jew, Jews, Jewish rat, Polis worm), exclamations (shut-up).


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SUBSTANCE USE - Two bottles of wine and some empty glasses are shown on a table and an unopened bottle is seen in a man's hand in a prison barracks, and we see an empty wine bottle on one table in a man's residence. A man smokes a cigarette while sitting in prisoners' quarters on a floor, two men smoke cigarettes in another room later, and three men in a dark corridor light and smoke cigarettes.


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DISCUSSION TOPICS - Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, genocide, death camps, unwarranted imprisonment, forced unpaid work, Nazi human experiments, prisoner collaborators/Sonderkommandos, human rights violations, obsession, anxiety, hopelessness, courage, sacrifice, injustice, murdering unarmed people, killing children.

MESSAGE - The Holocaust atrocities are beyond comprehension.

CAVEATS

Be aware that while we do our best to avoid spoilers it is impossible to disguise all details and some may reveal crucial plot elements.

We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and older reviews are not as complete & accurate as recent ones; we plan to revisit and correct older reviews as resources and time permits.

Our ratings and reviews are based on the theatrically-released versions of films; on video there are often Unrated, Special, Director's Cut or Extended versions, (usually accurately labelled but sometimes mislabeled) released that contain additional content, which we did not review.


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