HIC recommends: SON OF SAUL and BEING THERE

Son of Saul | 2015 | László Nemes | Hungary | Cert 15 | 107m | Hungarian and other languages

Our film this week was due to have been THE PAINTED BIRD, a Czech drama by Václav Marhoul based on the novel by Jerzy Kozinski. It tells the story of a young Jewish boy struggling to survive on his own in Eastern Europe during World War Two.

The Painted Bird | Václav Marhoul | 2019 | Czech Republic / Slovakia / Ukraine | Cert 18 | 170 mins | Czech and other languages

The film has attracted some controversy for its unflinching portrayal of violence, but critics have been overwhelmingly positive in their reception and the film has won awards including the UNICEF award at the Venice Film Festival, where it received its premiere, and a total of nine Czech Lions (Czech Film and Television Academy Awards).

Unfortunately THE PAINTED BIRD’s late March release coincided with the closure of cinemas worldwide. No new release date has yet been announced nor is a digital release currently planned for the film; it’s another title we hope to be able to bring you at a later date.

In the absence of THE PAINTED BIRD being available at present, let’s look at two films we recommend instead that have a connection with it.

Our first recommendation is SON OF SAUL, which we screened at Hull Truck Theatre in May 2016. Like THE PAINTED BIRD, it’s a harrowing tale of an individual’s attempt to survive the Holocaust.

László Nemes’ brilliant debut feature is propelled by the same harrowing intensity as its central character, a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau, who is forced to assist in the grisly day-to-day management of the exterminations. When Saul recognises a boy who miraculously, but only fleetingly, survives the gas chamber, he decides to give him a proper burial. However, his search for a Rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish places both his own life and the escape plan hatched by his fellow inmates in jeopardy. From its blurred opening shot, with Saul only coming into focus when he is inches away from the camera, the film eschews any grand overview of the Final Solution in favour of a penetrating, subjective portrait of one man’s experience.

Son of Saul | 2015 | László Nemes | Hungary | Cert 15 | 107m | Hungarian and other languages

Critical acclaim for the film saw it described as “a triumph, engineered with virtuoso skill” (Financial Times) and “one of the greatest movies ever made” (Sydney Morning Herald). It won awards around the world including the Best Foreign Language Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta, and four prizes at Cannes.

This film cannot be recommended highly enough. If you missed it when we showed it, or want to experience it all over again, you can rent or buy it on a range of platforms including BFIPlayer, You Tube and Sky Store.

Our second recommendation is something very different indeed, the 1979 comedy drama BEING THERE. Thematically a world away from THE PAINTED BIRD, it nevertheless has a common source, both films being adapted from novels by Jerzy Kosinsky (who also wrote the screenplay for BEING THERE).

BEING THERE tells the story of Chance (superbly played by Peter Sellers), a simpleminded gardener who has lived a sheltered life working for one client in Washington DC. When his employer dies, Chance finds himself on the street, with no knowledge of the world other than what he knows from television. After running into Eve (Shirley MacLaine), Chance finds himself becoming a confidante to Eve’s husband Ben (Melvyn Douglas, who won an Oscar for his performance), who mistakes Chance’s simplistic view of the world for deep wisdom. Under Ben’s influence, Chance becomes a most unlikely political insider – and Presidential adviser.

Being There | 1979 | Hal Ashby | Germany / USA | Cert 12 | 124 mins | English language

Sellers “has never been better” (Hollywood Reporter), and “this satire of a ruling class in which nobody knows anything is almost plausible, and certainly topical” (The Times). Perhaps more timely now than ever, the film was nevertheless recognised in its time as a masterwork and one of the boldest commercial comedies ever made, with a Bafta for Best Screenplay, a Palme d’Or nomination, and acting prizes at both the Oscars and Golden Globes among several awards it gained.

BEING THERE is available to buy or rent on digital services including You Tube and Apple TV.

Leave a Comment