Son of Saul: a flicker of light at the end of a dark story

Niall McCann


Niall McCann

Son of Saul: a flicker of light at the end of a dark story

Like many weeks, in fact all weeks, lots of stuff has happened this week. As some of you may have noticed a certain musician died to another understandable if somewhat overstated public grief.

This is of course not the first time we have lost one of our musical heroes, they've been dropping like flies lately. No matter what genre the grim reaper Is seemingly coming for you.

As a friend of mine said recently while lamenting the many weddings she had to attend: "We're t that age..." My thoughts turned to still living musicians and some have just released new music.

If music is the food of love... Then I don't understand that quote. But all songs must end. Last Friday saw the penultimate show in the Workmans Club in Dublin from one of the great bands Richmond Fontaine.

Their last show, or what I thought was their last show seemed like a good a time as any to remake upon the release of their last album, the wonderfully titled, You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To.

Lead singer and songwriter Willy Vlautin has been a masterful storyteller for nigh on two decades now. He has spent the majority of it doing it as Richmond Fontaine’s songwriter and more recently as a serious novelist, unfortunately due to his band living at four different corners of the world or even just not next door to each other they have decided that it’s time to close the door on the most brilliant of bands.

The alt-country troubadours 10th might be their final one, but it is a record which finds the band in as rude as health as ever. There is something to love here for everyone. Vlautin has a way of painting characters so rich you will think you have known them for years by the song end.

His words evoke Raymond Carver and Bukowski at his most human. The sheer honestly in the songs, the unflinching gaze upon all we are, marks this body of work out which the band have by this point amassed as one of the most impressive musical releases in recent memory.

If this was cinema this would be John Ford like long shots on burned-out characters, marital infidelity and dive bar bums. The music as always shows an intimacy with melody that great songwriting is infused with.

In a week when lots of things happened, Richmond Fontaine remain.

You Can't Go Back If There Is Nothing To Go Back To - Richmond Fontaine.


As we like to wearily note on these pages, every passing moment brings with it a lorry load of new films.

If I was jaded I might think that most of these films are something you would usually find in a bin but of less use but occasionally we are blessed with a film that would restore ones faith in cinema if not for the always hovering realities of what people call the real world.

The true face of the most hellish of worlds is rendering in harrowingly disturbing in Son of Saul, László Nemes’s debut, about a prisoner at Auschwitz forced to work in the gas chambers, dramatises the concentration camps with great intelligence, humanity, compassion seriousness and stark singular audacity.

The man most quoted or discussed here on these very pages has an interesting theory that because the cinema could not tell the story of the holocaust and the camps (as it could not show the horrors that occurred there) that the cinema as a medium is dead. In his astonishing debut, Nemes, has found a way to make the unseeable into the visual, he achieves this by not showing us much at all and in this way we see everything.

Keeping his camera and watch firmly fixed on Sonderkommando Saul, wise job it is to help fool prisoners into believing the guards lies that the showers they are being herded into are indeed showers rather than gas chambers.

He then helps load the bodies into mass ovens before shovelling their dusty remains, of which he is covered, into a nearby river.

One day Saul discovers a still alive boy amongst the bodies, who is tell smothered by the dr who finds him. Saul claims the boy to be in fact his son and determined to give him an honourable burial.

This is one of the most disturbing but necessary films of recent or any memory.

A open mouthed scream into the abyss. By keeping his gaze and by this, or gaze fixed on this one lone man we may not see the horrifying world around him but we do hear it, feel it, fear it.

Saul’s desperate search for a rabbi to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish over the body of the child – who could possibly be his child but also could quite easily not be, seems to represent an act of atonement in a world far from savable, a redemptive ritual amid the destructive and myopic existence of the Sonderkommando’s gollum like existence. Along with the Gramd Prix at Cannes film festival, the film also won the Oscar for foreign language film, it was collecting this award where Nemes stated that “the hope of this film” was to show that “even in the darkest hours, there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human”.

Even at the end here there remains a flicker of light in the foreboding darkness.