In 1944, prisoner Saul Auslander (Rohrig) works as a Sonderkommando at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He spends his days numbingly removing bodies from the gas chambers and collecting valuables from the victims. One day he sees a young boy whom he believes to be his illegitimate son. Determined to give the child a proper Jewish burial, he convinces a doctor Miklos (Zsoter) to hide the body until he can find a rabbi. Meanwhile, another prisoner Abraham (Molnar) plans a rebellion against the S.S. guards.
Nemes’ first feature is shot on 40mm to create a shallow depth of field around his protagonist. With the camera never leaving Saul’s perspective, the commanding sound design evokes horrors just out of sight, and we almost feel we are witnessing the atrocities right alongside Saul. Rohrig, a Hungarian poet, gives a stoic, deeply felt performance. Praised by historians and philosophers, this harrowing debut was drawn from first-hand testimonies of Sonderkommandos, and took home the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for its raw power and impact.