Is it too early to start thinking about the 2015 awards season? It’s never too early, as made clear by today’s announcement that Son of Saul, the critical sensation of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, has been selected as Hungary’s official foreign-language film Oscar submission. It marks the first such confirmation for what might be in play for the category at the 88th Academy Awards. Considering the hoopla that arrived at Cannes for László Nemes’ debut feature, the announcement seemed expected, just perhaps a little early. Sony Pictures Classics snapped up the title following its world premiere at Cannes, where the in-competition title won the Grand Prix.
Despite wide acclaim, Son of Saul may not be the easiest sell to audiences or Academy members. Described as an unflinching depiction of the horror of Auschwitz in 1944, the Holocaust drama centers around a Jewish Hungarian named Saul (Géza Röhrig, making his film debut) who is enlisted to aid the Nazis. While Saul is working at the crematoriums, he encounters the body of a boy he believes to be his son, which sets him up for a seemingly impossible task: making sure the body can receive a proper Jewish burial. Along with directing the title, Nemes is credited with the screenplay alongside Clara Royer, also a newcomer.
As mentioned earlier, the film achieved wide acclaim at Cannes—it marked an impressive feat for a debut filmmaker to earn a competition slot alongside more established luminaries including Todd Haynes (Carol), Gus Van Sant (The Sea of Trees), and Hou Hsiao-Hsien (who won the Directing Prize for another critical favorite, The Assassin). Along with the Grand Prix (second-place prize), Son of Saul also earned the International Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize.
Sony Classics hasn’t yet set up a U.S. release date for Son of Saul, but it appears likely that the film will open before the year’s end and more so that the title will make a tour of the fall festivals (Telluride, Toronto, New York) to firm up buzz before release and awards plans come underway. Last year, Hungary selected another widely acclaimed Cannes entry for its Oscar submission—the parable White God—however that film, in the end, didn’t make the cut. Stay tuned for more foreign film submissions as they trickle out this summer. The awards season is nearly underway.