Géza Röhrig: “I Felt Like I Was In Los Angeles As The Saul Of 15 Million Hungarians”

  • 5 Mar 2016 8:00 AM
Géza Röhrig: “I Felt Like I Was In Los Angeles As The Saul Of 15 Million Hungarians”
Presenting the Holocaust “from an internal point of view” in order to gain an understanding of what it was like to be a victim of the tragedy is the essence of the Academy Award-winning film Son of Saul, László Nemes Jeles, the film’s director, said. “It is amazing to see how happy people are about the Oscar,” the director told a press conference in Budapest. Nemes Jeles said he spoke with Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg both before and after Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, with the legendary filmmaker telling him that Son of Saul is “an important film” which had contributed to the collective remembrance of the Holocaust.

Lead actor Géza Röhrig said that even before the Oscar ceremony, he felt like he was in Los Angeles as “the Saul of 15 million Hungarians”. The film’s cast and crew were touched by the amount of support they received going in to last Sunday’s ceremony, producer Gábor Sipos said.

The Academy Award topped off a highly impressive haul of accolades for Son of Saul, which include a Golden Globe for best foreign language film, the Grand Prix along with the International Federation of Film Critics prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this year’s Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film, and the critics’ prize at last year’s CinEast film festival in Luxembourg.

Zoltán Vági, the film’s historical consultant, said that the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives will launch the Children of Saul programme which will focus on identifying the names of the 100,000 Hungarian Jewish children exterminated at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in the early 1940s.

Nemes Jeles will be the chief patron of the programme. Son of Saul takes place at the Auschwitz concentration camp and tells the story of Saul Ausländer, a fictional Jewish member of the death camp’s Sonderkommando charged with aiding with the disposal of gas chamber victims.

As László Nemes’ drama is awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Hungarian commentators offer various interpretations of the movie, but all agree that it is a masterpiece.

Like all important works of art, Son of Saul conveys universal messages to its audience, journalist Károly Kelen writes in left-wing daily Népszabadság. The columnist contends that the main message of Jeles’ film is that it is possible to remain humane even in the darkest times. Kelen finds it timely that contemporary Hungarian audiences are reminded of the importance of universal human values in the midst of the ongoing migration crisis.

Meanwhile in conservative daily Magyar Idők, journalist János Csontos thinks that Son of Saul is not a Holocaust movie. In the conservative pundit’s interpretation, the film uses the metaphor of the Holocaust to show how human beings in inhumane circumstances try to act in accordance with unwritten moral norms.

Thus, any effort to appropriate the film and use it for political purposes is alien to Jeles’ intentions, Csontos claims. In conclusion, he notes that the success of the film should make all Hungarians proud.

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MTI photo: Tamás Kovács

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