DRAMA; M, 2hr 4min (German, Hungarian and Yiddish with subtitles)
STARRING: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane
Deathly mission: Röhrig
First-time feature director László Nemes takes a daring stylistic chance in his pitiless, Cannes Grand Prix–winning Holocaust drama, mostly keeping his handheld camera squarely on the expressionless face (or rear-view head and shoulders) of Auschwitz inmate Saul Auslander (a locked-down Röhrig). Saul is a Hungarian Jew and a member of the Sonderkommando — groups of largely Jewish prisoners co-opted to assist the Nazis in the extermination of their own before being executed themselves. As Saul goes about the appalling work of looting, stripping, herding and cleaning up the subsequent mess, the camp is a cacophonous and oblique background. But its debasing daily business is secondary to his compulsion to find a rabbi to formally bury the gassed boy he believes was his son.
Even shown in relatively indistinct snatches, the death factory is hell incarnate. Knowing their days are numbered, Saul's hard-bitten fellow workers plot a rebellion; still, his crazy sense of purpose remains unwavering. That a man sapped of the spark of life can summon the psychic strength to cling so fiercely to hope is as singular as Nemes's assaultive treatment of it.