Son of Saul
Hungarian theatrical release poster
Directed byLászló Nemes
Written by
Produced by
  • Gábor Sipos
  • Gábor Rajna
CinematographyMátyás Erdély
Edited byMatthieu Taponier
Music byLászló Melis
Laokoon Filmgroup
Distributed byMozinet
Release dates
  • 15 May 2015 (2015-05-15) (Cannes)
  • 11 June 2015 (2015-06-11) (Hungary)
Running time
107 minutes[1]
Budget€1.5 million[2]
Box office$9.7 million[3]

Son of Saul (Hungarian: Saul fia) is a 2015 Hungarian historical drama film directed by László Nemes, in his feature directorial debut, and co-written by Nemes and Clara Royer. It is set in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, and follows a day-and-a-half in the life of Saul Ausländer (played by Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando.[4]

The film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival,[5] where it won the Grand Prix.[6] It was also shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.[7] The film won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.[8][9] It is the ninth Hungarian film to be nominated for the award, and the first since István Szabó's Hanussen in 1988. It is the second Hungarian film to win the award, the first being Szabó's Mephisto in 1981.[10] It also won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film,[11] becoming the first Hungarian film to win the award.[12]


In October 1944, Jewish–Hungarian prisoner Saul Ausländer works as a Sonderkommando at the gas chambers in Auschwitz. He works stoically, seemingly numbed by the daily atrocities. Among the dead after a gassing, Saul sees a still living boy suffocated by a Nazi doctor who calls for an autopsy. Saul carries the body to Miklós Nyiszli, a fellow Hungarian prisoner and a forced assistant to Josef Mengele, and asks him to not cut up the boy so that he can receive a proper Jewish burial. Miklós declines, but says he can have five minutes alone with the boy that night before the cremation. Saul asks Rabbi Frankel to help perform a funeral ritual, but the rabbi dismisses him and suggests that Saul perform the burial himself.

Saul overhears Sonderkommando Abraham talk about an uprising with Oberkapo Biederman. Biederman first wants to photograph the camp's horrors using a camera collected from the dead, and smuggle the pictures outside to attract attention and help. Abraham tells Saul of "the Renegade", a Greek Rabbi who has lost his faith. In return, Saul offers his assistance in their plan. He pretends to fix the lock of a shack, while a fellow prisoner hides inside and takes pictures of a cremation in a fire pit.

Saul sneaks into another Sonderkommando unit and finds the Renegade at a riverbank, where ashes are dumped into the river. The Renegade refuses to help; Saul in turn throws the man's shovel into the water. The rabbi jumps into the river but Saul pulls him out, and both are then taken to the SS-commandant of the unit. After an interrogation, the Renegade is executed and Saul is allowed to go back to the unit. Back at the camp, Saul sneaks into Miklós's office but fails to find the body, before being mocked and kicked out of the room by a group of Nazi officers. He confronts Miklós, who assures him that the body has been hidden for safety. Saul finds the body and takes it back to his own barrack in a sack.

That night, SS-commandant Moll orders Biederman to write up a list of seventy names, leading Biederman to believe that his unit will soon be killed. Biederman discloses the information to Abraham, who instructs Saul to head to the women's camp and pick up a package of gunpowder from a prisoner named Ella. Ella, who knows Saul, calls him by name and clasps his hand, but he withdraws. After collecting the package, Saul looks for a rabbi among a line of newly arrived Hungarian Jews, who are being led into the woods for execution. A Frenchman named Braun approaches him and convinces Saul that he is a rabbi. Saul disguises Braun as a Sonderkommando and sneaks him into the camp. When Saul arrives at the camp, he is confronted by Abraham and realizes that during the turmoil in the woods he has lost the package. On further questioning, he says that the murdered boy is his illegitimate son, an assertion Abraham says is not true.

The next morning, the prisoners are summoned into the crematorium to get back to work, where they discover that Biederman and his unit have been murdered. Abraham rallies the other prisoners and attack the SS guards, starting the rebellion. During the commotion, Saul retrieves the boy's corpse and escapes to the woods with Braun and few other prisoners. He prepares to bury the boy by a river, only to discover that Braun is a fraud when he cannot recite the Kaddish. Hearing the guards approaching, Saul tries to carry the body across the river, but loses his grasp and is pulled out of the water by Rabbi Frankel as the corpse floats away. The prisoners then hide at a shed in a forest and start to discuss a plan to join the Polish resistance. Saul notices a young peasant boy peeking into the shed and smiles for the only time in the story. The boy runs away before an SS officer grabs and silences him as guards approach the shed. The officer then releases him, and the boy runs into the woods as the sound of gunfire echoes behind him.




Nemes conceived of the film from the book The Scrolls of Auschwitz, a collection of testimonies by Sonderkommando members,[13] after discovering it during the production of Béla Tarr's The Man from London in 2005 when he was working as Tarr's assistant.[2][14] Nemes started working on the screenplay with Royer in 2010 and completed the first draft in 2011.[2][15] The writers spent several years on research, while historians such as Gideon Greif, Philippe Mesnard and Zoltán Vági provided support for the film.[14][15]

The project struggled to find financial backers due to the film's unconventional approach and Nemes's lack of experience in directing a feature film.[2][16] Originally intended to be a French production with a French protagonist, the film was produced entirely in Hungary.[2][16][17] After potential co-production partners in France, Israel, Germany and Austria turned down the project, the €1.5 million budget was ultimately covered by the Hungarian National Film Fund, Hungarian tax credits and the Claims Conference, accounting respectively for 70%, 25% and 5%.[2][16][18]


Nemes insisted on casting actors who spoke their characters' own languages.[16] New York City-based Hungarian poet Géza Röhrig, who had not acted in film since the 1980s, was cast as the main character, Saul, after being considered originally for a supporting role.[2][16]


The film was shot on 35 mm film in 28 days in Budafok, Budapest.[2][14][19] A 40 mm lens and the Academy aspect ratio of 1.375:1 were adopted to realise shallow focus and a portrait-like narrow field of vision.[20][21]

Architect and liberal activist László Rajk, who also worked on the permanent Hungarian exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, designed the re-creation of the crematoria.[2]


The film took five months of sound design.[20] Human voices in eight languages were recorded and attached to the original recording of the production.[2][20] Sound designer Tamás Zányi described the sound in the film "as a sort of acoustic counterpoint to the intentionally narrowed imagery".[2] The film is composed of 85 shots.[2]


The film premiered in competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival on 15 May 2015,[5] where it won the Grand Prix.[6] The filmmakers initially tried to premiere the film at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, but after the festival offered them a spot only in the Panorama section, not in the main competition, they decided to refuse the proposal and instead aim for the Cannes competition.[16]

In Hungary, the film was released on 11 June 2015 and sold more than 220,000 tickets, placing it as the highest-grossing domestic film released since the slapstick comedy Üvegtigris 3 in 2010.[22]


Upon its release at Cannes, the film was met with critical acclaim.[23] On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 96% based on reviews from 233 critics, with an average rating of 8.90/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Grimly intense yet thoroughly rewarding, Son of Saul offers an unforgettable viewing experience – and establishes director László Nemes as a talent to watch".[24] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 91 out of 100, based on reviews from 49 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[25]

In his review for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw rated the film five out of five stars, calling it an "astonishing debut film" and "a horror movie of extraordinary focus and courage". He ended his review writing: "Nemes's film has found a way to create a fictional drama with a gaunt, fierce kind of courage...."[26] Writing for Time Out, Dave Calhoun also gave the film five out of five stars.[27] Indiewire's Eric Kohn awarded the film an A− rating, calling it "a remarkable refashioning of the Holocaust drama that reignites the setting with extraordinary immediacy".[28] In his review written for The Hollywood Reporter, Boyd van Hoeij praised the cinematography and the soundwork of the film. He writes: "Shot (and shown in Cannes) on 35mm, often in sickly greens and yellows and with deep shadows, Erdely's cinematography is one of the film's major assets, but it wouldn't be half as effective without the soundwork, which plays a major role in suggesting what is happening around Saul, with audiences often forced to rely on the sound to imagine the whole, horrible picture".[29] Writing for The Film Stage, Giovanni Marchini Camia gave the film an A rating, and called it "a towering landmark for filmic fictionalizations of the Holocaust".[30] A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club gave the film an A− rating, and praised the movie's unique perspective: "Son of Saul is the rare Holocaust drama that finds actual drama, and not just despair, in the living hell of a concentration camp". [...] "Son of Saul sees humanity in effort, identity in action; it watches someone with nothing, a man reduced to a statistic, get a piece of himself back, mostly by finding some meaning in a place of meaningless evil".[31]

Claude Lanzmann, director of the documentary Shoah, gave the film high praise,[32] stating that "it's a very new film, very original, very unusual. It's a film that gives a very real sense of what it was like to be in the Sonderkommando. It's not at all melodramatic. It's done with a very great modesty".[33] Philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman also praised the film, and he wrote a 25-page open letter to Nemes, which opened with "Your film, ‘Son of Saul,' is a monster. A necessary, coherent, beneficial, innocent monster".[33]

Nemes was questioned about the similarities between Son of Saul and the 2001 film The Grey Zone, with Nemes replying "But mine is an Anti-Grey Zone!"[34]

In a 2016 BBC poll, critics voted the film the 34th greatest since 2000.[35]

In 2019, The Guardian critics ranked the film 12th in its Best Films of the 21st Century list.[36]


At the Cannes Film Festival the film won the Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize in the main competition section.[37][38] The film also won the François Chalais Prize and the Vulcan Award.[39][40][41] At the 88th Academy Awards, Son of Saul won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[9]

List of accolades
Award / Film Festival Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Hungary Won [9]
American Society of Cinematographers Awards Spotlight Award Mátyás Erdély (tied with Adam Arkapaw for Macbeth) Won [42]
Australian Film Critics Association Best International Film (Foreign Language) Son of Saul Nominated [43]
Belgian Film Critics Association Grand Prix Son of Saul Won [44]
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Not in the English Language Son of Saul Won [45]
British Independent Film Awards Best International Independent Film Son of Saul Nominated [46]
Camerimage Bronze Frog Mátyás Erdély Won [47]
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or László Nemes Nominated [37]
Grand Prix László Nemes Won [37]
FIPRESCI Prize László Nemes Won [38]
François Chalais Prize László Nemes Won [39][40]
Vulcan Award Tamás Zányi Won [41]
Caméra d'Or László Nemes Nominated
César Awards Best Foreign Film Son of Saul Nominated [48]
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [49]
Critics' Choice Awards Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [50]
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [51]
Directors Guild of America Awards First-Time Feature Film László Nemes Nominated [52]
Dorian Awards Foreign Language Film of the Year Son of Saul Won [53]
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Best Foreign Film Son of Saul Won [54]
Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [55]
Guldbagge Awards Best Foreign Film Son of Saul Won [56]
Houston Film Critics Society Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [57]
Independent Spirit Awards Best International Film Son of Saul Won [58]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [59]
Best Actor Géza Röhrig Runner-up
Manaki Brothers Film Festival Golden Camera 300 Mátyás Erdély Won [60]
Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards Foreign Feature Film Tamás Zányi, Tamás Beke, and Tamás Székely Won [61]
National Board of Review Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [62]
New York Film Critics Circle Best First Film Son of Saul Won [63]
New York Film Critics Online Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won
Online Film Critics Society Best Film Not in the English Language Son of Saul Nominated [64]
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [65]
Satellite Awards Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Won [66]

See also


  1. ^ "Son of Saul (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 3 November 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kilday, Gregg (16 November 2015). "How 'Son of Saul' Defied the Dangers of Re-Creating the Holocaust". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  3. ^ "Saul fia (2015)". The Numbers. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  4. ^ "In 'Son of Saul,' Laszlo Nemes Expands the Language of Holocaust Films". The New York Times. 14 December 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b "2015 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b Henry Barnes (24 May 2015). "Cannes 2015: Jacques Audiard's Dheepan wins the Palme d'Or". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  7. ^ "Toronto to open with 'Demolition'; world premieres for 'Trumbo', 'The Program'". ScreenDaily. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  8. ^ Ford, Rebecca (14 January 2016). "Oscar Nominations: The Complete List". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Szalai, Georg (28 February 2016). "Oscars: Hungary Wins Its First Foreign-Language Honor Since Fall of Communism". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  10. ^ "Son of Saul: Foreign Language Film – Nominees". Oscars. 14 January 2016. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  11. ^ "Golden Globes: The Complete Winners List". The Hollywood Reporter. 11 January 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  12. ^ Nick Holdsworth (11 January 2016). "Golden Globes: Hungary Celebrates First-Ever Win for 'Son of Saul'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  13. ^ Chare, Nicolas; Wiliams, Dominic (3 February 2016). "How Documents Buried by Jewish Prisoners at Auschwitz Tell the Story of Genocide". Slate: The Vault. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  14. ^ a b c "Son of Saul". Films Distribution. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  15. ^ a b Chang, Kee (17 May 2015). "From the Archives: Son of Saul". Anthem Magazine. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Macnab, Geoffrey (13 November 2015). "Laszlo Nemes talks Hungary's Oscar submission 'Son Of Saul'". Screen Daily. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  17. ^ Barraclough, Leo (27 May 2015). "Cannes: 'Son of Saul' Epitomizes Spirit, Ambition of Hungarian Cinema, National Film Fund Chief Says". Variety. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  18. ^ Rodek, Hanns-Georg (26 May 2015). "Deutsche Verleiher meiden meinen Holocaust-Film". Die Welt (in German). Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  19. ^ Ács, Gábor (23 May 2015). "A Saul fia rendezőjével a díjeső után". Euronews (in Hungarian). Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  20. ^ a b c Egan, Jack (7 December 2015). "Director László Nemes Goes Inside Auschwitz in Son of Saul". Below the Line. Archived from the original on 2 February 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  21. ^ Su, Zhuo-Ning (8 October 2015). "'Son of Saul' Director László Nemes on Capturing a Portrait of Hell and the Spiritual Experience of Cannes". The Film Stage. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  22. ^ Krezinger Szonja (21 March 2016). "A százezres nézőszám ma már inkább csak álom" (PDF). MTG Metro Gratis Kft. Metropol. p. 8. ISSN 2060-131X. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
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  26. ^ Peter Bradshaw (15 May 2015). "Son of Saul review: an outstanding, excoriating look at evil in Auschwitz". the Guardian.
  27. ^ "Son of Saul". Time Out London.
  28. ^ Eric Kohn (14 May 2015). "Cannes Review: Terrifying 'Son of Saul' is Unlike Any Oth – Indiewire". Indiewire.
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  30. ^ "[Cannes Review] Son of Saul". The Film Stage. 16 May 2015.
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  35. ^ "The 21st century's 100 greatest films". BBC. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  36. ^ "The 100 best films of the 21st century". The Guardian. 13 September 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
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  39. ^ a b "TOUTES LES RÉCOMPENSES DU FESTIVAL DE CANNES 2015". 23 May 2015. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
  40. ^ a b "A Saul fia megkapta a Francois Chalais-díjat is" ['Son of Saul' receives the François Chalais Prize]. Népszabadság Online. 23 May 2015. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
  41. ^ a b @Accreds (24 May 2015). "Cannes 2015: Vulcan Award of the Technical Artist to Tamas ZANYI, sound engineer for SON OF SAUL" (Tweet). Retrieved 24 May 2015 – via Twitter.
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  57. ^ Densby, Andrew (9 January 2016). "Houston Film Critics award "Spotlight," "Revenant"". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
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