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Son of Saul Blu-ray + Digital Review

Son of Saul (2015) movie poster Son of Saul (Saul Fia)

US Theatrical Release: December 18, 2015 (Hungarian: June 11, 2015) / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: László Nemes / Writers: Clara Royer, László Nemes

Cast: Géza Röhrig (Saul Ausländer), Levente Molnár (Abrahám Warszawski), Urs Rechn (Oberkapo Biederman), Todd Charmont (Bearded Man), Sándor Zsótér (Doctor Miklos Nyiszli), Marcin Czarnik (Feigenbaum), Jerzy Walczak (Sonderkommando Rabbi Frankel), Uwe Lauer (SS Voss), Christian Harting (SS Busch), Kamil Dobrowolski (Mietek), Amitai Kedar (Hirsch), István Pion (Katz), Juli Jakab (Ella), Levente Orbán (Vassili), Gergö Farkas (Saul's Son), Balázs Farkas (Saul's Son)

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has a long history of recognizing films about the Holocaust. That is only part of the reason that Hungary's official submission for 2015's Foreign Language Film Oscar, Son of Saul, emerged as the category's frontrunner and was the only non-English film with a snowball's chance in Hell of cracking the field of Best Picture nominees. None too surprisingly, it won the Foreign Language award and received no nominations in any other Oscar category.

The feature debut of director László Nemes, who co-wrote the original screenplay with Clara Royle, Saul focuses on Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew who has been assigned to work among the Sonderkommando,
secret bearers who maintain the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The job is just as atrocious as it sounds, as Saul and his colleagues hear their fellow Jews screaming and falling to their deaths on a regular basis, only to have to then pile up the bodies, collect the valuables, and mop up all the blood.

These atrocities occur out of focus, while the camera remains fixed on Saul, the quiet, seemingly emotionless man you know is not entirely desensitized by this position. Saul seems to flinch just a tiny bit at the sight of a doctor examining a young boy who narrowly survived the lethal gas. The doctor finishes him off and then orders an autopsy. Saul brings the body back and asks the doctor not to cut him open, a well-known violation of Jewish tradition. He tells the doctor (Sándor Zsótér), a fellow Hungarian, the deceased is his son, a claim whose veracity is left uncertain to us.

"Son of Saul" follows Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), an Auschwitz Sonderkommando determined to give his son a proper Jewish burial.

Nonetheless, the doctor promises to do what he can and Saul vows to take whatever desperate measures he can to get this adolescent boy the proper Jewish burial he deserves in lieu of the mass cremation other gas chamber victims receive. The remainder of the film follows Saul on that perilous mission, as he looks for a rabbi who can recite the Kaddish and oversee the burial.

As should be perfectly clear by now, Son of Saul is one bleak movie. Most of us have seen the Holocaust dramatized elsewhere, whether in Schindler's List, The Pianist, or no shortage of European films.
Even so, familiarity can't prepare you for the gut-wrenching views of the Sonderkommandos' work, as lifeless naked bodies are dragged and stacked again and again unflinchingly. Saul's quest, no matter how insignificant it may seem against the entirety of the Holocaust, is a moral stance you can easily sympathize with. But it is not a journey that breeds hope or joy. The best-case scenario promises a sliver of comfort in a world of unthinkable persecution.

Nemes, who is not yet 40, makes a confident and distinctive debut, creatively utilizing the long-outmoded 1.37:1 Academy aspect ratio and selective camera focus. It is a difficult film to get through once and one you may well never wish to endure again. This Holocaust tale proved too harrowing and heartbreaking for that Foreign Language Film Oscar to go anywhere else.

Sony Pictures Classics, who has fared quite well in that category of late, brings Son of Saul to Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, two months after its Oscar night exposure. Basically finished at the box office, the film has grossed $1.8 million in North America from a max theater count of just 180.

Son of Saul (2015) Blu-ray + Digital cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio
5.1 DTS-HD MA (Hungarian), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, Portuguese, and Spanish
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


It's not just the subject matter that makes Son of Saul a distinct and uncomfortable experience. The film uses the long outmoded 1.37:1 aspect ratio (with rounded edges) to keep a close and tight view of the protagonist, while the horrors around him remain largely out of focus and partially out of view. Like just about all Sony Blu-rays, this one boasts a sharp and vivid transfer. The high quality picture is complemented by the crisp 5.1 DTS-HD master audio that preserves the predominantly Hungarian original dialogue.

Director László Nemes, star Géza Röhrig, and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély answer questions at the Museum of Tolerance Q & A. A lone short deleted scene is not remarkably different from what's included in the film.


Sony of Saul's Blu-ray extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director László Nemes, star Géza Röhrig, and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély.

They speak in English with a screen-specific discussion of the film. They all have clearly poured much thought into this production and continue to do so here.

The video extras, which are all exclusive to Blu-ray and encoded in HD, start with "Return from the River" (2:05), an unremarkable deleted scene that is presented without commentary or introduction.

Next up comes a long Q & A session (1:03:27) from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles featuring the same trio as the commentary, Nemes, Röhrig and Erdély. In this thoughtful panel (which somehow hardly overlaps at all with the commentary), they discuss the film's development, casting, design, research, and shooting on film rather than digital. It is conducted in English, though English subtitles are on by default.

As usual for a Sony Pictures Classics title, the extras conclude with the movie's US theatrical trailer (1:43).

"Previews" repeats the disc-opening trailers for Labyrinth of Lies, Coming Home, The Lady in the Van, I Saw the Light, Dark Horse, and Miles Ahead.

The static menu plays the end credits' violin score over a 16:9 rendering of the poster/cover key art. As always, Sony authors the disc to support bookmarks and to resume playback.

Son of Saul took enough time to arrive on Blu-ray for its Oscar and Golden Globe victories to be prominently printed on its keepcase cover, which is reproduced in a glossy slipcover. The lone insert supplies a code for the Digital HD with UltraViolet that is included with your purchase.

Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) gives a haunting smile to a passing boy near the end of "Son of Saul."


Son of Saul is a powerful and draining Holocaust drama you'll probably only be able to stomach a single viewing of, but ought to give it that much. Sony's Blu-ray upholds the atypical intended vision and complements that fine presentation with substantial bonus features.

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Reviewed April 25, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Sony Pictures Classics, Ladkoon Filmgroup, Hungarian National Film Fund, Claims Conference,
and 2016 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.