Son of Saul won Best Foreign Language Film at Sunday’s Academy Awards. The film was widely considered to be the frontrunner in this race.
Directed by first-time feature filmmaker László Nemes, the Hungarian Holocaust drama is set in Auschwitz-Birkenau in October, 1944 and tells the story of Saul Ausländer (newcomer Géza Röhrig), an inmate responsible for disposing of other prisoners who eventually finds the body of a boy that he takes on as a son and attempts to give him a proper Jewish burial. Nemes also co-wrote the film with Clara Royer.
“Even in the darkest hours of mankind there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human. That’s the hope of this film,” director László Nemes said while accepting the first win for Hungary.
Colombia’s Embrace of the Serpent, France’s Mustang, Jordan’s Theeb, and Denmark’s A War were also nominated in the category.
In EW’s review, critic Chris Nashawaty gave Son of Saul an A and called it an “absolute masterpiece.” Additionally, he praised it for its unique take on a familiar subject. “It’s impossible to be a lover of cinema without having been down this road before in films like Schindler’s List and The Pianist,” he writes. “But Nemes is telling his story in a revolutionary new way—and it’s devastating.”
Röhrig echoed the devastating nature of the film in a video interview he did with EW at the Toronto International Film Festival. “When I first read the script, I right away realized that this is not going to be one of those movies that try to avoid the darker realities of the Holocaust,” he said. “In one way I was happy about that, because I thought that lots of movies have it too easy. If you make a film about the Holocaust, you better recognize the Holocaust for what it is, and not try to surround the subject matter with cheap sentimentalism and give some sort of a survivor’s tale, which is really the exception. Most people did not survive.”
Beyond the Oscars, the Hungarian entry was recognized with a Golden Globe Foreign Language win, a Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix win, and many more wins and nominations.