In accepting the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film tonight, first-time feature director Laszlo Nemes said in his short speech, “The Holocaust has become over the years an abstraction. For me, it’s more of a face we must not forget.” Nemes’ intense Holocaust drama has roundly been receiving praise since it wowed and haunted audiences in Cannes last May. The only neophyte in that competition, he won the Grand Jury Prize there and began a long career on the festival circuit from Telluride and Toronto to London, New York and even Austin Fantastic Fest. Among the orgs already to name Son Of Saul 2015’s Best Foreign Language Film are the Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco critics groups as well as the National Board of Review.
Nemes hails from Hungary, a country which has won an Oscar before with Istvan Szabo’s 1981 Mephisto, but never a Globe. Saul is shortlisted for an Oscar, and we’ll find out on Thursday if it advances to the final five nominees. Last year’s Globe winner, Leviathan, went on to vie in the Foreign Language Oscar race but lost out to Pawel Palilkowski’s Ida.
Sony Pictures Classics acquired Son Of Saul in Cannes and tonight continued an unprecedented Golden Globes winning streak. Since 2008, Tom Bernard and Michael Barker’s prolific boutique shop has only missed out on the prize once.
Son Of Saul follows a Sonderkommando prisoner at Auschwitz forced to assist the Nazis by feeding the crematoria the endless stream of bodies from the gas chambers. Set over a day and a half, the film closely follows the title character (Géza Rohrig) as he discovers among the dead a barely alive boy he believes is his young son. Failing to save the boy from being murdered, he becomes obsessed with finding a rabbi to give him a proper burial.
Nemes, who spent a portion of his teen years growing up in Paris, had such pre-buzz going into Cannes with the film that I named him a Deadline Director to Watch before it had even screened on the Croisette. He told me at the time he originally wanted to make Son Of Saul as a French film, but “had trouble finding the right framework.” So, he took the project back to Hungary and decided to make it on a lower budget with support from the Hungarian Film Fund. Tonight, he gave the fund a special shout-out in his acceptance speech.
He’s also previously told me of his approach, “I was very disappointed by the usual approach of the so-called Holocaust movies that I saw. I wanted to bring the story to the level of one person and scale it in a very narrow way.”
When he first received word of the Golden Globe nomination, he was about to board a plane to Chicago, and told me at the time, “The film has had this long journey and it’s very exciting, like we are in a fairy tale.” If he had to pick one reaction amongst the many he’s received during the post-Cannes voyage Son Of Saul has taken, he has told me it’s from people “thanking me because it gave a voice to an emotion they could never communicate. The greatest gift is to have this kind of power – that film can give voice to an emotion that exists but can’t be communicated.”