Arts and Culture

The Holocaust film that is upending the genre – and other Jewish notes from Cannes

“Son of Saul,” which recreates a harrowing Holocaust experience, garnered nearly universal acclaim at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. (Twitter)
(JTA) — Given the long and storied history of the Holocaust film genre, it’s unusual for a new movie on the subject to be lauded as innovative.

But the new film “Son of Saul,” the first by Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes, is being called just that. It also was one of the most widely talked about films at this year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where it landed the Grand Prix award for second best film. (The French film “Dheepan” won the top prize, the Palme d’Or.)

“Son of Saul” stars 48-year-old and first-time actor Géza Röhrig as a member of the Sonderkommando, or the Jewish prisoners who were forced to help the Nazis run their concentration camps. The film is shot in a gritty, cinema verité style that makes the viewer feel like he or she is right there, in the middle of the death camps.

Vulture called it “a Holocaust film like none you’ve ever seen before.” The Los Angeles Times said that the film “turn[s] the form on its head.” The Guardian wrote: “It’s so frank and unflinching, it makes even the finest of previous Holocaust films look crass.”

This is historic praise for a rookie filmmaker.

There is no official release date yet, but Sony Pictures Classics bought the film’s U.S. distribution rights, so it will be coming to the States at some point.

“Son of Saul” aside, Cannes 2015 was one of the most Jewish editions of the festival in recent memory. Other films of Jewish interest there included Natalie Portman’s adaptation of Israeli novelist Amos Oz’s memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness”; Woody Allen’s latest production, “Irrational Man,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone; “Amy,” the documentary on the late Jewish singer Amy Winehouse, which has impressed critics but angered her family; and the Israeli entry “Afterthought.”

In addition, the film “Degradé,” notably directed by twins Tarzan and Arab Nasser from Gaza, involves the plight of several women in a Gaza beauty salon who display more anger toward what they call the “thugs” of Hamas than they do for Israel.