Saul Fia (Son of Saul)



I never thought I’d go to a city like Budapest and want to see so many movies. You’d think when arriving in a new place — especially one with amazing sights, nightlife and history — you’d avoid ordinary cultural pastimes. And yet, In my first week abroad, I found comfort the pale blue glow of my (brother’s) Netflix subscription. It was Catch Me If You Can and I was sick, okay? Don’t make me justify myself.


That movie needs no justification on any grounds except maybe Tom Hanks’ Boston accent. And yet, I still feel like I need to justify it because I’m in Budapest I have to have 100% unique-euro-trip experiences or I’m missing out. Fuck that though, watching movies is survival for me and I’m still not sorry.

“Movies are pleasant little lull’s in the chase scene of life.”

Movies have always been a really safe thing for me. I’ve made some of the biggest connections in my life over them (old movies with my dad, Miyazaki and PBR with Tyler, finding myself after seeing Wreck-It Ralph, etc).  When I’m coming down with a fever 4000 miles from home, you-fucking-betcha I’m grabbing a sweater, hat, and the nearest copy of In Bruges I can find to ease myself into a thick unconscious, soup (that, or NyQuil). Movies are pleasant little lull’s in the chase scene of life.


We all wish our chase scenes could be against obese tourists, but, alas.

To the crux of the matter, I was offered the opportunity to see Saul Fia (or Son of Saul for us English-ers) with English subtitles at a beautiful theater like Uránia Filmszínház and no one would judge me for sitting in the front row?! Fucking right, I’m there. For context, Saul Fia was the Oscar nominated Hungarian film that ended up winning the Best Foreign film category and I was getting to see it before the Oscars a few weeks back.

Nice. Okay. So it’s a Holocaust-theme’d film in which the camera is rarely removed from the brooding face of the title character, Saul Ausländer. I’ll be candid, it sounded pretty gimmicky at first, but I really appreciated it by the end. The film circles around the idea of a “Sonderkommando” which were the camp workers who were forced to help the German’s to manage everyone in the camp. Things like collecting valuables from clothes after entrance to the gas chamber, cleaning up the gas chamber, and much more horrifying duties.

I really don’t want this to get heavy so I’ll spare most of the details. Essentially, Saul is forced to know what’s happening to his people (Hungarian Jews, specifically), forced to have the knowledge that he is helping them to their death in exchange for his own life. It’s not really clear if the sonderkommandos think they’ll be released after helping, but I think it’s really important to note that its a survival tactic and I personally don’t blame the sonderkommandos. They’re existence was tortured enough without my badmouthing them 70 years later on a blog about pasta and explosion gifs.*

Without spoiling too much, Saul sees a boy get removed from the gas chamber and sets out on a mission to get him the proper Jewish burial rituals that he deserves because he is his son. That all happens in the first 15 minutes of the movie and is the basis of the rest of the movie. Not a reason to not go see it now, you probably could have guessed from just hearing the title. The really interesting part is how he doggedly follows this mission, risking his own life and the lives of his fellow kommandos in the process. While the others are more concerned with keeping their head down, or revolting as coping mechanism, Saul looks inward. There’s a tight balance between self and selfless here;  he is sent to retrieve a secret package for a kommado from the women’s camp only to accidentally lose the package while trying to save the life of a rabbi who could perform the Kaddish for the burial. The paradox is further complicated as the other kommandos insist that Saul had no son, complicating the morals behind Saul’s selfless mission for the boy.

This leads to another interesting duality: community and isolation. While other kommandos band together to plot revolting, Saul looks inward to his own agenda. The tightly focused camera lens echos Saul’s narrow view, providing a window into his mind and his singular focus. It creates the atmosphere that Saul is blocking everything out around him; every major atrocity he runs into during the film is obscured or blurred to the viewer in the periphery around Saul. The camera shakes and bounces to give the audience a visceral attachment to the character so it feels like you are right there with him.

And that’s how we come back to survival. A person in a concentration camp will make intense missions for themselves to escape, to take the weight off of their hardship. They’re moving forward, not being weighed down by their situation. While skeptics of the film might claim it is “just another Holocaust memorial” and not really a Hungarian film, (coming mostly from debates with other students with whom I saw the movie) I think this mentality of survival makes it a quintessential Hungarian-borne film. The conservative Hungarian identity is synonymous with endurance and that’s what this film shows. Movies and escapism, that’s what I’m getting down to here.

It’s a really important film in my long-winded opinion, and I’d say definitely worth the price of admission (especially because movie tICKETS ARE $5 IN BUDAPEST I’M STILL NOT DONE SCREAMING ABOUT WHOOOOOO).

I’m real jazzed about it, if you can’t tell.


Speaking of escapism, I’d like to formally apologize for getting so heavy. I’ve never liked to leave anyone on a low-note so here are some disgustingly cute animals being viciously adorable.



*The meta-disillusionment is complete. I’m not trying to kid anyone anymore.

Saul Fia (Son of Saul)

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