There’s no way I can talk about the film Cremator without spoilers, so please make haste if you don’t wish to know. This is more of a, what the fuck was that all about post! First up, how this gets labeled as a comedy, along with crime and drama, I have no idea. There are definitely extreme dark comedy moments but the by and large of it is utmost bleak and depressing.
Set in Czechoslovakia sometime around 1939/40 during the Second World War when Nazi Germany have invaded the country and are setting up a protectorate. The deranged Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrusínský), a strange rotund smiling man, who on first impressions has an almost innocent look to him. Coming off like a loyal family man, he is the father to a son and daughter, with a dutiful wife. It doesn’t take long before you realise there’s something oddball and peculiar about this man.
He’s extremely proud of his job as head of the city crematorium. Happy to tell anyone wishing to know, the process he uses to dispose of the bodies in his care. Whenever he opens up a casket to reveal a body, out comes his trusty comb to give them a quick tidy up. Giving the dearly departed’s hair a loving swipe to the side before he then, with a freakish creepy routine, tidies up his own hair with the comb.
For Kopfrkingl, he sees his job as a blessing, to free the souls on their next journey path, to cleanse them by releasing their smoke into the ether. Maybe you might think he is doing his job well, a way to cope with the arduous task in hand? But no our Kopfrkingl is quite demented and unbalanced as he battles religious symbols, the influence of Nazi propaganda, the pull of prostitution and most bonkers, seeing himself as the reincarnation of the recently departed, 13th Dalai Lama.
As the Nazi influence and propaganda thoughts go through his head he starts to dismiss his own and his family’s, identity. Seeing himself as more German, even though he only has a “drop” of German blood flowing through his veins.
This is truly a dark psychological horror story with a horrendous anti-semitic core throughout the whole film but the smiling freaky man in his twisted mind things and believes with his cremating, relieves all earthly suffering and he is divine in his ways.
He is watched by a dark haired woman throughout the film at different times, she looks so heartbreaking sombre, I wondered if she was a ghost, a spirit of some kind, maybe even the angel of death?
Did I read into it right? That his actions of wanting a bigger more productive crematorium whilst working for the Nazi’s imply that he was the catalyst for the monstrous atrocities that were to come at the hands of the Germans in World War Two? I certainly got that impression and it’s plagued my mind, so extremely disturbing.
A few things I learnt.
- I’ve read it was not widely seen until the collapse of the communist system in Czechoslovakia in 1989, it had been banned shortly after it’s 1969 first showings. Not sure how true that is as writer, director Juraj Herz says in a personal quote…
“I went to various projections of the film in many different countries, from the Netherlands to Naples, and I was keen to see how the reactions of the audience were completely different in every country. In Prague, people were depressed; in Slovakia, they laughed; in the Netherlands, it was a comedy from the beginning to the end; in Italy, the spectators went from the cinema right to the bar because cremation is just impossible, awful and unacceptable in their country.”
- It’s original title is “Spalovac mrtvol” which on Google translate comes out as “Corpse burner” or “Corpse Incinerator” and is based on a novel of that name by Ladislav Fuks.
- Rudolf Hrusínský plays the part of the truly unhinged and psychotic lunatic extremely well, bringing a unique sinisterism to him.
- The camerawork and editing is incredible, as scenes are merged into one another in magical surreal brilliance. Add to the close up, fisheye style lens shots of Rudolf along with the Czech language, makes everything come together to bring a magnificent surreal feel to it.
Yes of course it is such a deeply disturbing film but it is also so beautifully filmed, so intriguing and artful. The camera shots and black and white print are gorgeous. It’s nature through it’s avant garde style is so utterly surreal, with that sinister undercurrent running effectively rife from beginning to end, just gives the film a crazy perplexing macabre fascination. It will certainly not be for everyone but if you like art house cinema it’s very much worth searching out. Maybe you will get a very different feel and explanation to the story. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts if you so wish.
Something more lighthearted will be coming for the next post I hope, thanks for popping on by the wolf lair. All the best… Mikey Wolfman