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Son of Saul seeks humanity at hell’s front door: review

Son of Saul

Starring Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnar, Marcin Czarnik, Kamil Dobrowlsky and Juli Jakab. Directed by László Nemes. Opens Dec. 25 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 107 minutes. 14A

It’s 1944 within the hell known as the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and Nazi evil has turned a Hungarian prisoner named Saul into a zombie.

Saul, played by newcomer Géza Röhrig in a commanding performance, is part of the Sonderkommando, Jewish prisoners who carry out ghastly tasks in exchange for improved living conditions.

Saul herds his fellow Jews into the gas chamber, then collects and destroys their bodies afterwards. He does this with no hint of a conscience, until one day he encounters the body of a youth he takes to be his son.

The personal epiphany and astonishing quest that follow must be seen rather than described, but they must also be endured. Director László Nemes films within a very claustrophobic and shallow-focused frame, bringing home the reality of the Nazi horror while also leaving much terror to the imagination. There is no score, just the sound of cries, whispers and bullets.

One of the best movies of 2015, Son of Saul is a sobering stunner about the Holocaust and one man’s struggle to regain his humanity.