Best Foreign Language Film is not usually the most talked about award at the Golden Globes, but it will be this year – at least for the Jewish community! Last night at the 73rd annual Golden Globe awards, Son of Saul, a Hungarian film about the Holocaust won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. Its leading man, Géza Röhrig, is a modern Orthodox Jew who was born in Budapest and currently resides in Riverdale, New York.
The Globe is not the first accolade for Son of Saul; it snatched the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival last May. The film has been heralded as creative, unconventional, and immersive in its approach for its treatment of the camera as a “companion to Saul,” allowing the viewer to peek at atrocities in their peripheral vision and see fragmented horrors happening in the background.
Saul, the film’s protagonist, is a member of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where his job is to usher unknowing Jews into the gas chamber and remove and burn their corpses after the fact, all while knowing the Nazis will kill him and the rest of the Sonderkommando every few months. He becomes obsessed with burying the body of a little boy (who he is convinced was his son), and we follow him on this mission throughout the length of the film.
According to an interview have gave the LA Jewish Journal this past October, the observant Jewish man who plays Saul, Géza Röhrig, had his own obsession with the Holocaust. He was born with a Jewish name “Rafael Zvi” in Budapest, but for complicated reasons ended up in an orphanage after losing his father at age four and was adopted by a Jewish family when he was twelve.
As he grew closer to his adopted grandfather, who he went to shul with, he learned how his loved one’s family had been decimated in the war. While studying in university in Poland, Röhrig visited Auschwitz and was so moved by what he saw that he literally did not leave for a month, renting a small room nearby. He spent the better part of each day, those next few weeks, visiting the camp and taking notes. These notes would later become the inspiration for his first book of poetry entitled Hamvasztókönyv (“Book of Incineration”).
After his time in Auschwitz, Röhrig told the Times of Israel that he headed straight to yeshiva in Israel, seeking answers to the theological questions that now plagued him. He adopted an observant life, earned three masters degrees, got married and is now a father of four. He is currently working on a book about his origins.