Son of Saul : A Film Review

Son of Saul.  A haunting compelling, utterly unflinching embarkation into the Hungarian and Jewish experiences of the Holocaust told by a debut Director and profoundly affecting delivery from the collective ensemble.
Writer Director: László Nemes. Starring: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Sándor Zsótér. 107 mins. 15 cert.
This a bewildering audaciously confronting examination of the complex trail of events taking those involved into a zombie like zone which cannot be imagined except through desperate experience. It opens a door onto needed understanding in its intention.

It’s beyond comparison

The day I saw this film the report on Hillsborough when the Liverpool fans died of asphyxiation and crushing included a reaction from Bruce Grobbelaar. It was an FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest. Asked if he had seen anything like it, after witnessing the dead being brought onto the pitch and him using and directing those carrying bodies to use advertising boards he said it was probably the worst way to die. There was no blood, no shrapnel, no outward sign of death he recalled. There were around fifteen dead bodies he saw straight away being carried onto the pitch. It is as close we can get to imagining the horrific testimony of the Holocaust this film goes into in a telling, partially of the story of those conscripted to act as labourers to carry out the actions surrounding and including the extermination of many thousands in their camp.

1944 bordering on the invisible

The scale is the first striking thing you notice. The invisibility of this so far into the war is incredible.  The almost industrial organisation and manipulation through fear and merciless enforcement put to work to carry out the Holocaust within the forests of Germany and here in South West Poland.  
Sonnerkommando Auschwitz 

Saul is one of many Sonnerkommando whose job it is to perform the tasks of in the Auschwitz Concentration camp. He is seen firstly shepherding large numbers of people off trains rounded up by the Nazis and transported here. For this film I noticed that children were not asked to take part in these re-enactments though many thousands of children were among those who stepped of these very same trains. It was obviously too horrific a concept to inflict upon children for them to be involved.
Saul is marked by a red X on the rear of his overcoat and he continually wears a cap as it also enables him to be identified. He as a Hungarian is among many fellow men and women from that country who are ‘appropriated’ to carry out the most vile and dehumanising tasks such as disposal of the ‘pieces’ as a human body is known. They are separated in camps by gender also and he in his work is able to, or required to adapt to the work going on in different places. It may be in the gas chambers cleaning out the detritus of left over body waste. Or in the coal house where boilers are stoked to burn to ash the ‘pieces’. He is also able to visit through tasks given, the room where autopsies are performed. The living amongst the dead feel the dead speak to them somehow.
Intricate and intimate following Saul.

Through this film the camera, hand held and giving mostly head and upper body shots, follows Saul everywhere he goes making the story his exposure and link to all the various things that go on in this Concentration camp. To say it is replicated elsewhere is now known to magnify what we are viewing here. It is the piecing together of the pieces and those people who were alongside the destroyed people. The potency of the images are continually immersive and bring forward a view of the unimaginable. No senses except sight and sound are with us on this viewing encounter. No contact by touch, by smell, by taste is possible so the amplification through those present circumstances are portrayed through elements of imagery such as scarfs, masks in parts of the camp. By following Saul there is a contention being made of the redemptive journey of Saul to Paul in the biblical reading. How is that depicted? It is possibly through the wasteland depicted of life destroyed and treated meaning less and worthless. It is also conceivable that the redemptive journey the film takes is showing how whatever adversity faced Saul is on the journey to become Paul.
Sweeping along with God

Of all the prisoners in the camp around one hundred are deemed fit to carry out the arduous tasks. They have in effect a stay of execution by co-operating by carrying out assigned work. Otherwise they would be dead and join the others. What is taking place among them is the fulfillment on behalf of the many thousands that pass through this camp; there are one one day around three thousand sent to be massacred. The act is itself one of betrayal once they arrive. The fulfillment of the duties carried out is a defiance of will by the ones left to live in that they all believe in the creator and see this is the work of those who defy Gods word. The judgement on them not the prisoners sweeping up the remains and following instructions.
Despite this retention of belief which is fixed here on Saul and his journey, there come frequently others practicing in secret and discreetly their religion giving memorial those thos e just perished. There are Rabbi celebrants with distinctive appearances both Hungarian and Arabic Hebrew priests. They are a conduit through which this persevering faith is held and exemplified. It is entirely misunderstood by the German Command as baseless worthless and based on sentimental tokenistic beliefs. It is not seen as a vision or life force given and held by these disparate people whose Destiny is defined by their faith and Religion which has brought about their purge. Saul is not a Messiah but a prophet of a kind who has through one act which is central and the purpose of the journey undertaken that of giving a young boy a Jewish burial.

Boy remembered 

The young boy not yet a man, and be is the only child depicted, is the Son of Saul of the title. He has come across him in an extraordinary way as a boy left behind and dead to the world, seeing him as his own son. We learn he is the father but not from his wife who is in a separate part of the camp carrying out storage and domestic duties in the units were clothes valuables and the like are processed. 
To achieve his aim which is commenced in the earlier part of the film he has to obtain the corpse of his son and to find a Rabbi to perform the burial. Both these tasks are seemingly impossible but he puts himself in jeopardy many times to carry out his wishes.
Principles and hope unextinguished

I thought during the early parts of the film each act taking him away or exposing hi,self bybnot acting as expected or normally he would be spotted very easily but for reasons unclear he navigated virtually ever occasion where it seems he is about to be caught carrying out something which does not fit in with his supposed assigned tasks he escapes the moment to move onto another act of courageous and seemingly foolish risks.
Conclusion #####5 

This film cuts into your psyche asking phenomenally difficult and prescient questions.  Covering so many aspects of humanity we are stil struggling with the writer director, 38 year old Laszlo Nemes whose first feature film this is.  For a relatively young man he has seen the necessity of putting uncomfortable to say the least of it an on screen examination real dialogue and politically hamstrung forums cannot go or have no possible common embrace, this film gives us a fully extentialist means to embrace the problems and narratives it again unfolds.  It gives them uncompromising stature and directs the viewer into asking themselves to ask more and to confront their hidden constructs and dismantle barriers and walls they have and all have erected to keep these issues – here giving a contrasting compelling reflection on present visited miseries to the necessary wider forums we engage on.

The youth of Laszlo Nemes and his Hungarish nature have compelled him to use his inherently observation editorial and concious skills to provide this directly immersive viewpoint.  We can only thank him for his foresight and insight and hope as he undoubtedly hopes it provides shape and form to current interpretations and avoiding the perils of reductive analysis.  Such is the value of Cinema as an outlet to vent and confront unspeakable things.
John Graham

28 April 2016


Son of Saul opens at QFT Belfast on Friday 29 April until Thursday 12 May 2016.

Check above site and other information outlet’s for details of opening times.

Dheepan : A Film Review

Director Jacques Audiard, Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) Brahim (Vincent Rottiers) Languages, Tamil, French, English. Cert. 15. France. Duration. 1hr 55mins.

Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité or Persiflage, Anarchy, Brutality.                                                                                                     Former Sri Lankan Civil War fighter Sivadhasan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) has little chance of survival staying with Government forces seeking out those rebels who try to merge back into the ordinary lives they left behind.  She realises the only option is to flee and become one of the worlds refugees and seek asylum somewhere abroad.


 In order to make this possible and plausible he must adopt a false identity and with it adopt a woman and child to form three to seek asylum abroad.  The woman has made her own steps towards adopting a new identity and has in tow her would be daughter making the trio a unit matching false identity papers provided in the state the all wish to leave.  It is a then a bargain is struck between them to accomplish their escape.

In keeping with the style adopted with the 2010 film of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” we are given a story which we see and cannot fathom or say too much about because we, few of us will have encountered such circumstances. All we see is to him real is my way of looking at it.  This is only a fictionalising version of the truth.  We have to see violence.  We have to see utter despair.  We have to see uncontrolled resignation.  This is our current world.

We have been to stranger places.                                                                                                                                                                              It is not about the detention camps, those daily pictures of refugees crossing continents to reach barbed wire and hopelessly caught between two states of mind.  The one per-cent versus the remainder.  All consciousness is set aside.  This instead is about a detention of another kind.  The stasis of being not in your own place unable to make your own choices and at the mercy of an alien culture if indeed it could be disposed to call itself one.

Dheepan is a film about him leaving one quagmire and finding yourself in another. All three get to what they think is a relatively safe place but it turns out to be a compound of criminality.  Society, be it Belguim, France, Germany is in crisis as far as immigration and welfare of immigrants and refugees is concerned.  There is in each; and unlike the United Kingdom which has fashioned slowly but surely a much steadier and fruitful diversity and racial assimilation making it one of the underlying reasons for its popularity in obtaining leave to remain, very great divisiveness.  Even in ares where tourists go in on of those countries white people are told to go back home.  The divisiveness is racist and poverty related.  In Dheepan in its resolution or final closure there is an element which will show this which is probably the reason it is included and which some reviewers mistakenly pronounce as an implausible ending.  I disagree entirely as it is part of the whole vision of he director whose job it is to highlight the complete picture as HE sees it.

Nothing can be revealed, see with your own eyes.                                                                                                                                                I cannot describe how the narrative carries forward for fear of disclosing key points.  However one virtual evidentiary moment is itself indicative.  It is a moment one of the characters observes ‘It is just like the movies’.  Very true and the real world seen through their eyes appears fantasy yet real at the same time.  It is profoundly so. The vicious world of neglected parts of society, of marginalised people is so evident so raw and their integral world as of now is shocking and appealing.  The crisis is among us and the European model is broken through the disparity and this is partularly clear economically that a cascading destruction of people worldwide is happening through the inflicted poverty and the nihilitic greed prevalent and produced in the UK and Germany with the countervailing Chinese rush to westernization at any cost and via. Panama.  The bedrock of one David Cameron’s own precocity. I believe Dads company Panmure never paid a penny in UK taxes. What can anyone possibly make of that except greed prevails.

The relationship between Dheepan and Yalini is hanging by a thread of common need.  It is in Dheepans mind something possibly to benefit them both.  Both have suffered horrendous losses revealed during the film.  They are both encountering a wholly different world.  In the middle and closest to normality by way of the extended help she receives in this foreign country as she is a mere child, is Illayaal.  She’s has a gift of restraint.  A gift of language and the detachment of a child whose understanding of the world is that is nothing less than a mess though the extremes reach to her also and she is rightfully often fearful.  She notices things the adults do not and the strains between her surrogate father and mother.


Death and division.                                                                                                                                                                                          This film is beautifully shot and is a vivid picture of the reality some face.  The sectionalisation is prominent in this location, it’s complete loss of prospect or aspect for the youth whose lives are corrupted by mass unemployment and little cohesion in the economy of the state.  Hence all the riots we often see.  The 1969 style protests.  The widening racial hatred and calling back to nascent fascism and the social project undertalen by Hitler. It is as bad as that.

The undercurrent in Europe is scary to say the least.  The future is becoming bankrupted as environmental and competing trading nations vie for resources and the sequestration of assets is rampant.  The Chinese particularly making inroads by buying up sections of foreign countries and those countries making a market in their sell off/out aided by corporate machines and banking with no accountability.  The current of the film is in the underworld such – and this is a poor extrapolation perhaps – the consolidation is taking place and being replaced by non governmental states.  States that are purely a commercial entity.  It is a deconolisation of sorts but bypasses the previous right to independence which has been fought and struggled for throughout Africa, throughout the Middle East and the wars are untenably destructive.

Conclusion #####5

This film is like a depth charging missile into the heart of our worlds concious future.  As it moves into terrain and territory hnone or few of us are directly familiar with it produces raw and visceral emotions. It speaks loudly and boldly.  It confronts through actual realised, depicted confrontations the savage core deeply damaging effects of oppression and the sporadic movement of people used to other societies.  Dheepan is very disturbed mentally and it the film on some flashbacks portray the warring ‘crusade’ lost and he is fleeing from.  Those moments are shown infrequently but are powerfully direct and open a new realm to the watcher.  The Director Jacques Audiard, in common with past practice is rarely shy in showing the violence and the close up context within this story.  It produces blow after blow mentally and physically in which few can escape the prevai game message.  It asks why and shows the effect of outrageous misfortune and the dehumanizing world of many.

Without giving too much away hopefully I can only commend this film to you as an explicit piece of almost journalistic drama featuring elements which cross our everyday lives without having the recourse to dissect or define what is happening and to address the problems now.  Many things are moving towards helping people find resolutions but until the realisation is is not what we are put here on earth to do, we are not here to obliterate all we disagree with but seek common humanity as instinctively present in all.

John Graham

13 April 2016


See at QFT from 22 to 28th April 2016

Couple in a Hole

Written and Directed by Tom Geens, Cast. Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jéróme Kircher, Rated 12a, Belgian, French, UK. English with occasional subtitles. Duration 1hr 45mins. 2015.
Sense of place
In the French mid-Pyrennes a Scottish couple, Karen (Kate Dickie) and John (Paul Dickie) have retreated to a hovel, the hole of the title which is no more than a large fallen tree they have enclosed and live in the void underneath.  There is little dialogue to begin with and it is sparse throughout the film so making the discovery of a backstory key to the ‘reveal’ of the reason such a seemingly mature couple, in their thirties, have this as a life’s domain.  The forest provides the first scenes as John is hunting, gathering food and some brutal animal gathering is involved though not of a boar.  They inhabit the forest too and each keep their distance.  The foraging is primitive and Karen is left alone and in shabby despair in the hole. Her mind is we can see, fractured and she is the vulnerable one and perhaps the one whose choice it was to live this way.
Visual enclosure
Belgian Director Tom Geens is able to deliver a taut and wringing story, having you guessing and confused while testing your nerves as to the limits of human existence physically and emotionally. A case of maybe – What would you do?
The time is the present and the place is a scenic valley with the forest skirting green pasture land and the hole is near a town which John sometimes visits for necessary provisions and the odd bit of pilfer you from people’s gardens.

The presence of nature and its contrasts with how we live, some able and adjusted to living off the land, and urban people whose vision of nature is one of escape. A small holding type existence the mid point survival Accomodation with the managed life providing things the land does not provide. Usually diversions of some kind and if not skilled in the rural arts of potions and cures, medicine.
Inevitably perhaps one off them falls ill. Karen has a very bad phobia of the outside world and it is with every idea at his disposal will she be encouraged to venture out. This is a theme in the film which is taut and claustrophobic in every sense making you wonder what it is that has both living this way. It is both unnecessary and as with their lack of skills, or moderate means of survival can they be safe and totally unable to make this ‘escape’ work for them, whatever they think it will achieve. The scenes of excruciating lack of of responsiveness from Karen are played intensely and the bridge is present in the portrayal of both for us to engage with, albeit from a position of comfort and far from their reality.
It seems closure of some sort is needed and there is a ghost which is present throughout and John who visits a burnout farmhouse and claws through the interior debris with recall of what might have been the way people live in such a fine giving part of the countryside. Of how life can be if it shaped out at another time. He is reflective and when it is necessary he engages with the adjoining community to seek help. It is Karen who has taken ill and he goes to obtain medicine but recoils and into the gap comes André who is a villager and farm owner with a volatile wife. Excellently played by Jéromé Kircher. He gets hold of the medicine and it is taken with thanks by John. André suggests to him the villagers want to help them but with the nature of the hermit existence Karen has imprisoned herself in it if both implausible and impossible. John begins through a period to engage more frequently with André in a semi harmonious way and little Bon mots are given, exchanged. Karen continues to be full of fear and has wild imaginings and bad dreams which make her containment ever worse and restricting.
The format of the film stretches reality and it is the backstory which is the most vivid and absent part of the story but it becomes slowly revealed with it has to be said our engagement and emotional sympathy playing a part in the story.

Conclusion ####4

It is enveloping after a very slow and bewildering first half. All acted and given strength and vitality by the manner of descriptive framing and visual close up imagery making us from early on able not to regard this as a surreal or post ‘apocalyptic’ time. It recalls Wild (Reece Witherspoon) more than the darker more intense and wider plotted The Survivalist (Martin McCann) but does little to examine the way people choose to live in any real sense. This is a very singular tale told well with a crescendo of and ending no one would be expecting in their wildest imaginings but Tom Geens has us believe this very edgy, very provocative, insular movie and he manages to, as movies of this kind do confine us to within his horizons.

John Graham

5 April 2016


It is on at QFT Belfast from Friday 8 April, this Friday, to Thursday 14 April 2015. It’s not a bundle of laughs and is at times very disturbing and though it has a 12a ratings it is likely to cause some a few nightmares which you would not wish on anyone!

High Rise : A Film Review

A film by Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss Cert.15.
Lofty ideals

J.G.Ballard as a writer has been difficult to translate into the Cinematic media though notably Croenenburg succeeded and then some in the nihilistic self extuiguishing Crash in which human desires are not enough in the conventions programmed and hurt and pain must be confronted and when not around sought as a will of living in a world without purpose self sacrifice extends the precept becoming a concept.  It is the concept of the body surface being immaterial and destructible.  Innate memory is apparently located in the brain.  It has a physical location, yet how are we to comprehend how it excercises it’s life giving instructions onboard memory.  The circuitry of cars and machines – being pre internet etc – Ballard in one sense has been prescient although breathtakingly bleak in an appraisal of what might emerge.  Certainly almost apocalyptic violence is manifesting though not as the Nuclear fears expressed in both Crash and High Rise have espoused.  Here and now is as bleak a trajectory.
The concrete jungle in High Rise is a universe, a small holding, within again the Handmaids Tale projection of externals, internals.  Ben Wheatley and his wife and the films screenwriter have as 70’s children forgone the machinations of post war Britain and Wilsons, Labours uprise after the Conservatism which failed in and after the War.

We are, they are acclimation get us in this narrative by keeping the Ballard thematic Seventies view which they can relate to.  If you can also; it’s a bit difficult for the Irish (the scourge of Catholic suppression and child harm is recent memory – only now is England a customizing itself to the horrendous (is it a co-incidence it surfaced – underground – in the seventies as a outplaying of liberalism and thereafter the liberal economics also took time to die?) child church abuses taken place in past eras.  It is also difficult for the North, Belfasts high rises were thrown up as mini me type developments luckily not on a scale represented elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and thus the Divis Towers, Municipal tower blocks were not only of a social class apart from Highpoint and the contemporary Jean Renet style of streets as living machines with added landscaping environments (there called trees and plants!) so the idealism is quashed by Ballard.  Even Jean Renet got things wrong although they were minor errors in comparison.  To place living rooms on the North side; his early designs were far to swift out of the ‘blocks’ and the schoolboy error was emitted, later disposed of.
Ballard thought technology was something to destroy humanity, “the high-rise was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly free psychopathology.”  Repression he thought would be our illness.  It is of a kind prescient but it is wholly the making of a society detached and apart from the environment except in its unsustainable present form, population levels being unsustainble. He does not acknowledge that part of our demise rather expresses the violent reaction to it which is not as in High Rise a social contract ripped up but a severe case of the colly wobbles – OK – mental meltdown overcoming a ‘tower block condominium’.

Parts are played by a cast of very accomplished stylised and perhaps becoming ad-hoc actorial spokespersons of an age.  The redoubtable West Cork boho Jeremy Irons adds his throaty gravitas to the (and Ballard names his characters in keeping with character, King, Wilder etc.) Penthouse dweller is he.

Evelyn Waigh tried fictions sing Ernö Goldfinger but it was never likely to reach Ballalrds essentially more demonic vision.  Ernö is attributed to the Hungarian modernist feel London was to be influenced by.  Even maybe Denys Lasdun taking a que  from him in the brutalist, watch the same time comforting realism of form and with erstwhile honesty still considered a valid statement architecturally and socially befitting then and now.

An illustration of the might and probably intolerable self belief of Ernö as opposed to a depiction on film by the redoubtable Irons comes with the story, true, of him called his architectural practice from afar and someone of his Architectural practice answering as he Ernö Goldfinger himself answered. “Goldfinger speaks.” Enraged he said apparently “This IS Goldfinger, Who is this?” Met with silence, “I will be back in my office by four and if I am not told who is my impersonator I shall sack you all.”  He returned to his office at four.  All the staff remained loyal to the miscreant and he said. “Right, you are all fired.”  Every single member of his staff were thus summarily dismissed.  So I wonder if hat featured in the iron filings of Jeremy’s researches.  It is Carparthian precocity and bombast which carried him through and to make monument of social order in the form written down as High Point.
Tom Hiddlestone who is magnificent as the operative Night Manager alongside the malevolent, in the acting sense, Hugh Lawrie is in this a bit too laid back and all Etonian with his Doctorial manner.  It is not as mad as Ballard intended and perhaps constraint was wrongly deployed or instructed by Ben Wheatly. His views on ‘critics’ I learn is somewhat acerbic but I attribute that to his ouevre being table salt currently, not river salt – digest as you see fit.
The film is averistically consuming of material in every sense.  The detail recognised with such relevance and reverence by designers is scornfully treated here not is nicely observed.
A Cinematogopers eye is usually lustfully absorbed into the kind of Goldfinger mettle advanced by and so meticulously created, from the top down to the social order of his office staff. I can hear him proclaim – get on with it.  He apparently dished out the same invective to his Mother.  There is undoubted beauty, relationships with colour and audacious constraint and minimalist editorial guile within much of Goldfingers work from the smallest home, shop to this High Rise ‘edifice’ which is a signature piece now.