Can the atrocities of the Holocaust ever be truly represented through the medium of film? It's a question artists ranging from Alain Resnais to Claude Lanzmann to Steven Spielberg have been considering for decades. The answer remains divisive and ultimately unclear.
László Nemes' debut film Son of Saul brazenly attempts to convey the events of everyday life at Auschwitz by limiting the viewer's perspective and alluding to the horrors beyond the 4x3 frame. It's expectedly an awful time at the movies, but also an important and problematic work that can't be dismissed.
Onscreen, the foreground is dominated by Saul (Géza Röhrig), who races from one act of survival to the next. The background is often blurred, but we hear screams, panicked movement, gunshots and then the eerie silence of death. It's almost unimaginable to consider what's happening off screen. This is the stuff of nightmares, every frame a cramped coffin for the film's tortured protagonist.
Saul has survived the camps thus far by working as a member of the Sonderkommando, a unit of Jewish prisoners forced by the Nazis to aid in the disposal of bodies from the gas chambers. Here, Nemes seems insistent on exploring how his character gets caught up in a hurricane of misery that has become disturbingly normal.
The narrative revolves around Saul's messy attempts to find a rabbi in the hopes of providing proper burial rights to a recently deceased young Jewish boy. His rapidly deteriorating experience becomes a rigorous endurance test for both character and viewer.
In Son of Saul, which opens Jan. 15, trauma exists in real time as opposed to some lingering memory. All consuming and immersive, it's hard to know what to do with such formally striking and unnerving visuals, even if they only represent a small portion of one historical moment founded on the evil that men do.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi: Michael Bay brings his patented brand of sledgehammer subtlety in telling the story of the American contractors who raced to the aid of the American embassy in Benghazi once it fell under attack by militants in 2012.
Anesthesia: On a snowy night in New York City, a tragic accident connects the stories of various characters struggling with life’s hardships. Screens through Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Anomalisa: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s strange stop-motion animation tells the story of an unhappy customer service specialist (David Thewlis) who tries to overcome his unhappiness by engaging in an affair with a younger woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Lamb: Coming off the death of his father and the disintegration of a marriage, a young man strikes up a conversation with a woman in a parking lot in the hopes of setting his life on a new journey. Screens through Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Moonwalkers: Based on the popular conspiracy theory that the first moon landing was actually a staged production by filmmakers, this comedy stars Ron Perlman and Rupert Grint as the con artists behind the camera. Opens Friday, Jan. 15, at the Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Mustang: Over the course of one hazy summer in Northern Turkey, a young woman and her four sisters attempt to break free from the strict rules of their domineering father, who wants to marry them off one by one. Opens Friday, Jan. 15, at the Carmel Mountain Angelika Film Center.
Norm of the North: In what surely amounts to a devastating critique of global warming, this innocuous animation finds a displaced polar bear and his lemming friends trying to survive in New York City.
Ride Along 2: Ice Cube and Kevin Hart are back as squabbling frenemies in the sequel to the first Ride Along, duh.
Son of Saul: The everyday horrors of Auschwitz as experienced by the titular character, a man who is forced to help the Nazis dispose of dead bodies as part of the Jewish Sonderkommando.
The Benefactor. A young couple played by Dakota Fanning and Theo James develops a complicated relationship with a possessive philanthropist (Richard Gere). Screens through Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.