Hungary's Cannes debutant casts 'different' eye on Holocaust

Hungary's Cannes debutant casts 'different' eye on Holocaust

BUDAPEST - A contender at this year's Cannes festival, "Son of Saul", is a "different" kind of Holocaust movie, homing in on one man's ordeal over two days rather than the full scope of the tragedy, says its Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes.

The 38-year-old's first-ever feature film will make its world premiere in the Palme d'Or competition at the French festival, which runs between May 13 and 24.

"We use a 'less is more' approach; we are in the shoes of one man over a short traumatic period," says Budapest-born Nemes, who lived in Paris between the ages of 12 and 26.

The movie tells the story of two days in 1944 in a German concentration camp where Saul, a Hungarian Jew forced to burn corpses in a crematorium, believes he has discovered his son amid the bodies, and endeavours to give him a proper burial.

Nemes -who used to work as an assistant to acclaimed Hungarian director Bela Tarr -- has already released three short films, which have won over 30 prizes at international festivals.

Avoiding stereotypes 

He says he wanted to do something "visually different" with the Holocaust.

"It has been treated so many times, often with stereotypes, and as much emotion or drama packed in as possible," he told AFP.

"But in a sense, the killings went on in silence, the harshness was often subdued," he says.

Nemes cites as influences World War II films like "The Pawnbroker" (1964) by Sidney Lumet, and "Come and See" (1985), Elem Klimov's film about a boy witnessing carnage on the eastern front in the Soviet Union.

Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah" was also a key reference source which "fuelled the emotional background" for the movie.

Shot and projected on 35-millimetre film -- "it offers a more immersed and emotional viewer experience," Nemes explains -- "Son of Saul" took more than five years to make after the director tried, in vain, to attract funding from outside Hungary.

"Most of the time the decision-makers considered it too risky a theme for a first feature director and had doubts about the feasibility of the project," he explains.

In the end, the film cost 1.5 million euros ($1.65 million) and was made entirely in Hungary.

The multilingual cast is made up of lesser-known actors such as New York-based Hungarian underground artist Geza Roehrig who plays the main character.

Languages spoken in the film include Hungarian, German, Polish, and Yiddish.

"It was important to try to reproduce the 'Babel' of Auschwitz," says Nemes.

Hungary's trauma 'not dealt with' 

Around 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in World War II, almost all after Nazi Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944.

Commemorations last year of the 70th anniversary of the mass deportations to Nazi death camps were plagued by bitter rows over the extent of Hungarian complicity in their organisation.

"There is an underlying trauma here, you can feel that the killing of over half a million Hungarians 70 years ago is something that hasn't been dealt with," Nemes says.

"Hungary, and indeed central Europe, has a long way to go until it can turn from that disturbing past to the future and maybe construct something more full of hope," he says.

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