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Son Of Saul (Blu-ray Review)

son of saul coverThere was little doubt that Son of Saul would not win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and with good reason. This Hungarian film is terrific in what it attempts to do, how it accomplishes its task and how it does plenty more to make it a very engrossing and watchable experience, despite the incredibly harsh subject matter that is the Holocaust. Writer/director Laszlo Nemes has made an incredible debut feature film and all of the awards it has won this past year were well deserved. Now Son of Saul is on Blu-ray, where a much wider audience can hopefully discover this tremendous film.

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Film:

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Son of Saul presents the journey of Saul (Geza Rohrig), a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando in the Auschwitz concentration camp. These were the Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis in the disposal of gas chamber victims. The drive of this movie comes from Saul’s discovery of a boy he takes for his son. Through a series of missions, Saul will attempt to save the child’s body and find a rabbi to help provide a proper burial, all while an uprising is being planned.

It is an ambitious and near-impossible plan, but the film takes great strides in showing us all the various connections between the men Saul comes into contact with in an effort to get this task done. Regardless of how appropriate the comparison might feel, it is something to see the impact of the Holocaust be lessened by having video game-like missions be performed by our lead character, who we mainly see by way of a behind-the-shoulder camera.

Nemes takes a very unique perspective with the help of cinematographer Matyas Erdely for this film, as the camera rarely ever leaves much space between itself and Saul. Given the nature of a Sonderkommando, I found that to be entirely essential to presenting this story, as it helped the viewer keep focus away from grisly images taking place at Auschwitz. The deliberate aspect ratio choice also aided in this perspective, though regardless of the budget, it is easy to acknowledge how much time and effort went into the production design of this film.

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Creating a film built around a narrow field of vision was important for how to tell this story, but nothing in this film felt inauthentic. Nemes also dared to rely on many long takes, which continued to build my admiration for how difficult a process building a film like this must have been. The amount of choreography to go along with the many characters in any given scenes, let alone the various languages being spoken makes for this film, makes it a technical marvel.

Additionally, Son of Saul has a lot of soul. Rohrig does have a lot to say, so he’s not a near-wordless hero we just happen to be following, but there is still a lot to glean from his facial expressions and how he reacts to the various pieces of information or people he comes across during his journey. Many supporting actors also make an impact in a way that reminded me of the many supporting players in Children of Men. It is all a way of saying that regardless of how task-oriented the film is, there is an intensity that helps to communicate the stakes and drive for this story, with Saul involving himself in a larger conflict, while also registering as a proper emotional center.

I found myself incredibly impressed by how this film played out, as knowing the subject matter going in had me preparing to watch something a lot direr. That is not to say the film could not be seen as depressing, but given the filmmaking style and the nature of the story, there was a lot more to grasp onto that helped to separate what my mind was in all of this. As a result, I found so much to appreciate in what Son of Saul had to offer, both narratively and technically. It’s not a film that should be taken lightly, but it is easily one that should be seen.

 

Video:

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.35:1

Clarity/Detail: While the focus is narrow, the picture is incredibly clear. The unique cinematic approach means a lack of complete focus on all the details seen, but we do get plenty to look at, given all the traveling Saul does throughout this location in the film. With the outdoor and indoor locations, there is a lot to take in overall.

Depth: This is where the cinematography comes into play again, as the depth of field is played with often, due to how we follow Saul and see his interactions with characters and locations. It allows us to see a lot of great dimensionality in this film’s video presentation.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep and inky throughout in a film that has a lot of dimly lit locations.

Color Reproduction: The film has a drab color palette for obvious reasons, I would say, but colors do still pop when necessary. Some outdoor scenes do allow forests and more to show off more than just various shades of grey, but colors look great all around here.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures are very strong, as we get a lot of close-ups to make sure we register all the people we interact with.

Noise/Artifacts: None.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s): Hungarian 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Dynamics: The audio presentation does a fantastic job of capturing the wide variety of sounds heard in a very complicated film.

Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel gets a lot to do, given the setting and all the different things taking place to build the atmosphere.

Surround Sound Presentation: Speaking of atmosphere, the surround quality is excellent. Each channel is utilized to continually build up the way we hear different sources of audio throughout.

Dialogue Reproduction: Lots of conversations take place and they are all heard loud and clear.

 

Extras:

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While it would have been great to learn more about how this film was made, there is quite a bit to take in thanks to a commentary and a Q&A included on this disc.

Features Include:

  • Commentary with Laszlo Nemes, Geza Rohrig and Matyas Erdely – These are exactly the people I wanted to hear from about this film.
  • Q&A at the Museum of Tolerance with Director Laszlo Nemes, Actor Geza Rohrig and Cinematographer Matyas Erdely (HD, 1:03:57) – This feature is full of great information about the film, with the filmmakers speaking in English.
  • Deleted Scene: Return from the River (HD, 2:05)
  • Trailers (HD)
  • UltraViolet Copy of the Film

Summary:

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Son of Saul is a tremendous accomplishment. It is a fantastic feature that takes rough subject matter and builds a unique and interesting premise that is captured in such a way as well. A strong sense of place and some effective character work really helps propel this film even more forward. Fortunately, the Blu-ray’s technical presentation is also great and there are some solid extras here to check out as well. This is a powerful film that deserves your time.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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