This movie is not taken on lightly as an audience member.
To classify it as ‘entertainment’ would certainly be wrong because the subject matter is so uncompromisingly challenging.
I wanted to love it unreservedly for the bravery of its content but I’m afraid I was left a little cold.
The film is shot in square format (possibly 4:3) which is immediately disarming and unusual (the last time I saw this was in the veery different Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel) and it’s used effectively because it gives the viewer a voyeuristic look into the mayhem that is Dachau where the movie is set. It also helps the director from a budgetary point of view because it eschews the need for expensive wide shots.
The opening scenes are astonishingly harrowing as we see the “pieces” of Jewish bodies essentially processed through the factory of death with disturbing, off screen, dog barks, German soldier orders and mechanical noise. It’s brutal and affecting in the extreme.
In some ways this is what I grotesquely wanted from the movie. I wanted to be horrified like no horror movie could achieve.
Forgive me for this but it didn’t happen. Yes, the mood was grotesque thanks, in particular, to the extrordinary sound design, but on screen I felt it shirked its potential too much.
In the end this voyeurtistic cinematography ultimately becomes both tiresome and limiting.
The fundamental weakness of the movie, in my opinion, is in the storyline. Frankly it’s not that credible and doesn’t stack up. The main protagonist (Saul) discovers his (illegitimate?) son as a gas chamber survivor and smuggles him out of the situation to seek a Rabbi to give him a proper Jewish burial.
This leads to a sequernce of events that side stories with an undercover camp breakout in which he is also inexplicably involved.
Sorry, it’s not credible.
And Géza Röhrig as the lead didn’t really do it for me.
And so the early wonderment of the movie, it really is very moving, starts to erode and gradually descends into incredibility.
I love what this movie stands for. I respect every iota of it.
I just didn’t think it was particularly good overall.