This Hungarian film is probably going to win the Oscar, and it’s probably going to be win the Oscar because you sit there in a marvel of technique wondering “Why? Why tell this story?” Like Raging Bull: You have all the talent in the world and you use it to tell the story of a degenerate, moronic wife beater whose claim to fame was being too dumb to fall down. Which, you know, if you’re one of the millions of film fanatics who love that movie and think it’s the best ever (Roger Ebert, or maybe it was Siskel), you might take this guy’s opinion with a grain of salt.
It’s well shot—very well shot, in a claustrophobic style best represented by one of last year’s nominees, Mommy—a style which I hope doesn’t become too popular. It would be so easy to abuse, but it works well here because Saul is both imprisoned in a camp and a victim of his own obsessions. The acting is good too, pretty much carried by the guy playing Saul, whose name I’m not going to put in here because, let’s face it: You won’t remember it and we’ll never hear from him again.
There’s also suspense, drama, all sorts of pathos, and other signs of quality movie-making.
Saul is a sonderkommando, which was a guy in the Nazi concentration camp whose role was to trick the newcomers into thinking they were getting a shower rather than being gassed. Then having killed them, they had to stack the bodies up by the furnace. Once stacked, they had to be thrown into the fire. After being burned, they had to be wheeled out to the river and disposed of.
Those Nazis were not good guys. Whatever you say, Mr. Verhoeven.
The story is that one of the boys of a batch of Jews survives the gassing, and is promptly dispatched (by hand) by a Nazi officer, and Saul becomes obsessed with giving him a proper burial. And there’s your movie. Now, we see a lot of difficult to watch movies. A. Lot. And some of them are worth watching because of what you take away, just leave you wondering why the filmmakers bothered.
You could get the idea from the various synopses that this is a movie about a man struggling to have some tiny amount of ethical, moral, cultural truth in what may be literally the worst possible scenario one could be in. It’s not that. If you go in expecting that, you’ll be disappointed. This is the sort of movie that exists to extinguish all hope. If you know that going in, you can have a good ol’ time.
Well, okay, not really. It is a good movie, though, just not one that I’d recommend. Interestingly enough, The Boy had the same reaction to this as I did, but bristled when I said “we didn’t like it” (when someone asked). I guess that’s too simplistic a way to look at it.
But if someone asks me “Will it win an Oscar?”, I’d say “signs point to yes”.