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‘Son of Saul’ first Hungarian film to win Oscar in 35 years

With its selection at last night’s Academy Awards in Hollywood, “Son of Saul” became the first Hungarian film to win an Oscar since István Szabó’s “Mephisto” in 1981.

During his acceptance speech, director László Nemes shared the award with the film’s lead actor Géza Röhrig, who plays tormented sonderkommando Saul at a Nazi death camp and who risks his life to ensure a proper burial for one of the prisoners that is thought to be his son. “Even in the darkest hours of mankind there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human. That’s the hope of this film,” said Nemes.

Early this morning, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted on his Facebook page: “A great day for Hungarian filmmaking. Thank you to everyone.”

The win was also a major victory, and vindication of sorts, for the Hungarian National Film Fund, which was launched in 2011 under the direction of film commissioner Andrew Vajna, a Hungarian who made his name in the United States as the producer of “Terminator”, “Rambo” and scores of other Hollywood films. Critics in the industry have complained that the fund mostly gives financial support to Hungarian films that are commercial in nature, and that it interferes with the creative process, but the fund’s support for “Son of Saul” would seem to indicate that it can back winners that are also very much a part of the art house genre.