The antithesis of nearly every Holocaust movie ever made, the Hungarian film Son of Saul is slim on happy endings. Directed by László Nemes, it tells the story of a member of the Sonderkommando, the Jews who ushered their co-religionists off the trains into the showers and who, after the gassings, cleared those showers out to ready them for the next batch of victims. Saul, portrayed by Géza Röhrig, is shaken out of his numbness and despair by the body of a child who survives the gassing and suddenly, amid the true-life rebellion of the Sonderkommando in October 1944, engages in his own form of resistance.
With a camera that rarely takes its lens off of Röhrig’s face, Son of Saul won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year and is Hungary’s entry for the Oscars. Röhrig, a poet, would-be rabbi, and former kindergarten teacher, speaks with Vox Tablet’s Sara Ivry about the responsibility of carrying the story in his eyes, about why he returned to acting after a decades-long hiatus for this particular project, and about how he found God on his own visit, at age 19, to Auschwitz.