Son of Saul is set in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944, and one Hungarian Jewish prisoner named Saul (played by Géza Röhrig) is a member of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners given humiliating and illusory privileges as trusties, with minor increases in food ration in return for their carrying the bodies from the gas chambers to pyres to be burned, then carting the ashes away to be dumped. The task is carried out at a frantic, ever-accelerating rate around the clock, as the Allies close in. Among the dead, Saul discovers the body of his young son, and sets out to find a rabbi among the prisoners to give the boy a proper burial in secret, using pleas, threats, blackmail and bribes – with jewelry (called the “shiny”) that he steals from the bodies – to achieve his aim.
Saul’s desperate mission is carried out with the same urgent, hoarse whispers and mutterings as another plot in progress: a planned uprising, which Saul’s intentions may upset. And all the time, the Sonderkommando are aware, through this network of whispers, that they themselves will be executed in due course by their Nazi captors”, critic Peter Bradshaw wrote in praise of the extraordinary debut film in The Guardian, describing the movie as “outstanding, excoriating and astonishing”.