Tag Archives: Vengeance

FILM REVIEW: Son of Saul

From Roberto Benigni’s La vita è bella to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, the Holocaust of the Second World War, is well-trodden territory on the big screen. It’s subject matter that will never fail to sicken anyone with a modicum of empathy and humanity about them, and it’s subject matter whose grim content will be familiar to even the most sheltered of lives.

It’s enormously impressive therefore for first-time feature film director, László Nemes, to not only produce a piece of work that pays great respect to the plight of those countless, predominantly  Jewish lives lost in Auschwitz, but to in fact almost completely re-invent the holocaust film genre in doing so, with a superbly innovative and deeply harrowing piece of film making.

The story follows Saul Ausländer, (the excellent Géza Röhrig), through his thankless daily toil within a Nazi concentration camp. Saul, along with a number of others, is part of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners tasked with ushering other prisoners into the death chambers and clearing away their corpses afterwards. The group undertake their daily activities in the knowledge that they themselves have only a limited lifespan within the camp. The need to remain fit, active and productive within their roles is paramount in order to delay the inevitable. Eventually their numbers will be up too.

Regardless, detaching their emotions from their work as best they can, they endure the same sickening ritual day in and out.

On discovering that the dead body of his son (or at least this is what is implied) – another victim of the chambers – is to be subjected to an autopsy, Saul suddenly finds a reason to believe in his futile existence within the camp, and sets about not only rescuing the body from the mortuary slab, but then hiding it, and embarking upon the seemingly impossible task of burying it within the camp’s grounds. To do this right, and according to his religion, he will also need to enlist the help of a rabbi; and so begins his relentless search.

But from where? And at what cost?

Son of Saul is almost like some sort of advanced computer game in its directorial style. László Nemes’ use of narrow, almost portrait footage is claustrophobic to say the least; very much a mirror to Saul’s tunnel-visioned ambitions and perspective. Frequently I found myself craning my neck in a vain attempt to gain a more lateral view of the gruesome scenes that were unfolding, like some kind of rubber-necking passer by surveying the wreckage of a twisted car crash.

But gratuitous it is not. In restricting what we see, Nemes reveals little of the graphic horror, keeping us intrigued and more importantly, leaving our minds working overtime. The duping, the looting and subsequent unseen dispatch of wave after wave of prisoners; their final cries of anguish and distress from behind closed iron doors, and the indescribable scenes of murder that are largely only suggested, around the pits of fire.

There’s no way to sugar-coat it, Son of Saul is pretty hard-going and desperately bleak, but it’s evocative and brilliantly engaging.

In many ways though it’s a peculiar film. Although evoking predictable emotions of anger, repulsion and vengeance, to name but a few, the over-riding emotion is one of massive frustration – not so much with the SS guards, but with Saul himself – as time and again, he places not only himself, but many others in grave peril through his own selfish compulsion to blindly follow through with his plan, come what may. It’s a plan as non-sensical to those around him as it is of utter importance to Saul himself.

Beside himself with frustration and annoyance, one of Saul’s compadres quips: “Saul, you forgot the living for the dead!”

One can only presume that such non-sensical actions are the actions of a man who has finally reached the tipping point where there really is no longer anything to lose; an apparent need to show a commitment to a boy in death that he was unable to provide for him when he was alive? It’s a point however that remains unclear.

What is clear though is that director László Nemes has put together an extraordinarily powerful and brilliantly innovative film that deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as the most revered films within the genre, and that is high praise indeed.

Not to be missed.

 

 

 

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: American Sniper

Wayne Kyle only appears fleetingly at the beginning of Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial offering, but his words and mantra live long and strong throughout, nowhere more so than in the head and psyche of his eldest son, Chris, played with surprising gravitas by Bradley Cooper.
To paraphrase Chris’s father: There are three types of people in this world, sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. You are a sheep dog; don’t ever let me find out that you’re a wolf.
Essentially, Chris knows he has a duty to protect those ‘sheep’ unable or incapable of protecting themselves from life’s aggressors; ‘wolves.’
A noble stance in essence, no doubt and one that Chris lives and breathes in his daily existence, but one, when applied to the unsavoury business of war and the need for some kind of work/life balance, threatens to tear him and those he loves apart.
Everything seems to serve as a trigger for Chris’s ingrained or possibly even innate need to protect the vulnerable, never  more so than when he becomes aware that his brother (also in the forces) has been deployed to Iraq too. This causes Chris to down his sniper rifle and join the foot patrols from where, in Chris’s head at least, he can better protect his brothers in arms. His own brother’s deployed whereabouts he’s apparently not actually even fully aware of.
This level of devotion to his Navy Seal comrades, be that in the guise of chief protector or self-appointed vengeance-seeker, continually over-rides the importance of his role as a husband and father, forcing him back for tour after tour to the battlefields of Iraq where his position as America’s top sniper is both essential and unrivalled.
The stakes, on both a personal and professional level intensify with each sortie and the very real threat of loss of both comrades in the battlefield and of his cherished family unit, always hangs heavy in the air.
It’s a credit to Eastwood’s direction that he tells Chris’s tale in such a way that this here lily-livered pacifist even found himself emotionally rooting for this most highly decorated of marksmen and is proof, if any were needed, that American Sniper is not your average shoot-em-up war tale. Instead, it has a real depth to it and works on a number of superbly considered levels and all of this without really even needing to broach the rather sticky subject of the validity of the Iraq war or indeed any war. That is very much left up to the viewer. Whilst hard issues of morality are prevalent throughout, this is not a film that chooses to focus so much on the rights or wrongs of war in general, instead, concentrating on its psychological impact upon those it affects, both directly and indirectly.
It was only at its end that I realised American Sniper is actually based on a true story. There are moments throughout (and forgive the rather off-kilter tennis analogy) when the screenplay ‘lobs one up,’ ready for the big Hollywood smash-down and then wrong-foots us entirely with a Michael Chang-esque under arm serve, not least, some shades of The Wild Geese reworked towards the end.
Of course, what happens in life happens, but life is not a Hollywood film, no matter how hard they try to sell it to you and a screenplay such as this, based upon a genuinely true story, benefits immeasurably as a result.
It’s a film that makes no secret of its pride and reverence for a great American patriot and the Stars and Stripes are in abundance, lining the packed streets in his honour, but it’s not an over-bearing sentiment; there is good balance to this story throughout, the sign, I certainly believe, of a really good war film.
And American Sniper is just that; a really good war film.

 

FILM REVIEW: BLUE RUIN

A reluctant, blundering vigilante hobo with tunnel vision; driven by fear and with a score to settle… that’s Blue Ruin.

It’s a gripping thriller and real edge of the seat, heart in the mouth stuff, but that’s as much to do with Dwight (the film’s main character) and his own ineptitude when it comes to the killer crunch, as it is to do with the relentless, ‘eye for an eye’ premise of the plot.

A trained assassin Dwight is not.

Jeremy Saulnier’s direction is superb, so much so that Dwight’s fears are genuinely palpable and consequently they very much become our fears too.

What would we do if plunged into this very same, no-win scenario? Would we flee and hide or face up to things with a steely determination to seek vengeance, all the while scared out of our tiny minds?

There’s really no option in Dwight’s mind and certainly no going back, as an increasingly messy trail of carnage is left in his wake.

Blue Ruin is fairly Tarantino-esque in some ways; wickedly dark, sometimes brutal,  but with the tongue always firmly in cheek.

It’s a bloody mess, but it’s bloody good!