The Sunday Cult Film Corner: “The Cremator (1969)”

18 Aug

Fuckity fuck fuck fuck….

Well today has been full of fog and headaches both physical and metaphorical. After going out last night and dancing like a gibbon at a rather splendid hard techno night, today has seen my tech setup go down the pan. My portable hard drive has decided to go and pack itself in. Over 200 gigs of music I can no longer get at. This is not good. I can probably get all of it recovered with the help of a cyber tech wizard, but alas this is going to cost money i don’t have right now.


so while i see about rebuilding my digital music collection, you can sit back and enjoy the latest episode of the Sunday cult film Corner, with a film about religion, fascism, and one man’s decent into warped mania psychotic delusion. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you THE CREMATOR.

THE CREMATOR tell the story of Karel Kopfrking, a cemator working in 1930s Prague. A fastidious man who takes his job very seriously, he is also obsessed with the Dali Lama, buddhism and reincarnation. As a result he believes that by cremating a dead body, he can free their soul. While this is happening, Nazi Germany takes over Austria and establishes the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. With Nazi forces gather at the Czech border and the changing local fascist political climate allows Kopfrking descends into madness as he exercises the full of his twisted ideology as he sees to create his own personal “Final Solution.”

Directed in 1969 by Juraj Herz THE CREMATOR is seen by many as a lost film in the canon of 1960s cinema known as the Czech New Wave. Here,  Czech and Slovak directors grew increasingly disgruntled with the communist regime that was in charge. Using unprofessional actors, dark humour surrealist imagery and long unscripted takes, their objective in making films was “to make the Czech people collectively aware that they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all.” Probably the best known fo the Czech new Wave directors was Milos Forman, who would go to the US and make films, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest,” “Amadeus,” and “The People vs Larry Flynt.”

THE CREMATOR on its release was put forward for the Best foreign Language Award at the 1969 Oscars, but failed the receive a nomination. From there the film was actually banned in its home country upon its premiere in 1969 and wasn’t seen again until the collapse of the communist regime in 1989.

Which is a shame as THE CREMATOR is a film with a brilliant visual flair and brilliant acting, especially that of Rudolf Hrušínský in the lead role Kopfrkingl, one of cinemas true lost monsters. At the beginning of the films we see Kopfrkingl as eccentric but harmless. The first 15 minutes of the film, show him to be obsessed with hygiene, order, and providing for his loving family. A slightly pious man (“I am teetotal. i don’t smoke or drink.”), his face is round and welcoming as his voice is calm and reassuring. but gradually the mask starts to slip and we begin to see the monster underneath. We see him leer after women, whether in paintings of his female employees. He has a morbid obsession with death, disease and deformities. One scene has him bored and sullen at a carnival with family, his mood only lightening when he forces them to attend a “Chamber Of Horrors” exhibition. As Kopfrkingl takes on the fascist dogma of racial purity and strength (A little too easily it must be said), many of his traits, such as the way he touches the back of the neck of people we walks along, or how he combs and touches the bodies of the deceased with take on a much more sinister undertone. By the time he descends fully into Nazi infused mania, he becomes a sadistic bureaucrat who sees the need to “eliminate” the impurities and “weaknesses” in his family. the scene of his wife’s funeral is especially chilling.

The use of surrealist imagery by director Herz in creating and building tension only helps to accentuate Kopfrkingl’s descent into madness. He begins to hallucinate moments such as himself in the form of the reincarnation of  Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama who died at the time the film is set. Then there is the mysterious woman who lurks in the background. Why is she there? Is she just a figment of his imagination or a representation of his conscience? Then there is the fact that his wife and his mistress are played by the same actress, a filmic and psychological trick that has been used in many psychological thrillers, such as Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession,” and David Cronenberg’s “Spider,” all films where you cannot necessarily believe what you see on the screen to be the truth.

The pace of THE CREMATOR is smooth and serene, almost eerily calm. Scenes tend to meld into each of each other with the camera zooming in on an object of person, only to pull back to reveal a different time and location. Although it’s often seen as a critique of Nazism, the fact is that the events of the third Reich are in the background event that only impact on the characters in the film from afar. What THE CREMATOR really shows is how easily a person can be influenced by another person, or even an idea, and this can apply to any kind of ideology, especially communism. this probably had a hand in the film getting banned in Czechoslovakia.

THE CREMATOR is a film of the blackest woozy humour, all stick and slightly icky, that sucks you in and even make you begin to doubt whether or not you could resist the pull of seductive, yet destructive ideals. so get your tea on the go and watch this long-lost slice of euro art cinema.

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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Video


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