Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Son Of Saul

Last year, in Dachau, I only needed to close my eyes for a second or two. It all came so vividly: gruesome roll calls, desperate men shot from watchtowers. Seventy years on, Dachau was emotional torment. It was Arvo Pärt's "Cantus In Memory Of Benjamin Britten" blasting through your soul, ripping you apart, crumbling every cell in your body.

Of all the books I've ever read on Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps, Primo Levi's If This Is A Man was the one that stood out. It was basic, it was unadorned. The details it gave stuck like painful splinters, relentless, never letting go. Fiction has never done it for me, and neither has Hollywood. Schindler's List was powerful but safe. The Pianist was Polanski with no edge.

Son Of Saul, Hungarian award-winning film from last year, is a film that does it. It gets you right inside, it drags you through one day and one night of a Sonderkommando (I would highly recommend Martin Amis's 2014 novel The Zone Of Interest). It's the smell, the naked bodies, the breathing, the ovens, the dirt and the half whispers you half understand. "Put it down". "Take out the pieces". Son Of Saul is the sort of film where these words are taken for granted.

It. Pieces. 

And then you say to yourself: it really did happen. Oh God it did. Because you tend to forget. You are not heartless or ignorant, it's just that you are not supposed to understand. They simply let you in for an hour and a half. For one tormented emotion that we must all share. For the devastating smile that will make you wish to bring back something that you never really had.