Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Cremator

*Not* Cardiacs

The Cremator isn’t actually a smut film. No, come back! It’s not exactly surrealist, horror, expressionist or comedy either. It’s all of these and more

The Cremator. You knew that.

Juraj Herz’s masterpiece of Czech New Wave cinema was suppressed by the Soviet authorities soon after its release in 1968 and was all but forgotten until a dvd reissue a few years ago allowed a new audience to discover its stunning images and pitch black humour almost 40 years later.

It's pronounced Laydeez-luv-a...
The film was adapted from a book by Ladislav Fuks, possibly the best named author in the Mounds & Circles cosmos and certainly the patron saint of nominative determists everywhere.

The wonderful animated title sequence bears strong resemblance to Svankmajer and Borowczyk, and has recently been overtly referenced in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio.

Introducing Mr Kipfrking

Set during the Nazi occupation of Prague Rudolf Hrusínský plays Karl Kopfrkingl, the charismatic cremator of the title, a man happy in his work, believing as he does, liberating the souls of the dead from their mortal remains. He has a face I could watch for hours, entrancing and strange, almost a cinematic archetype in the style of Orson Welles.

Les Dawson

The best little whorehouse in Praha

Kopfrkingl appears to have a happy family life with his wife, son and daughter, but he is also a regular visitor to a brothel where his partner of choice is played by Vlasta Chramostova, who also plays his wife Lakme. Matters start to become confused in Kopfrkingl’s mind, as he sees ghosts and becomes increasingly obsessed with Buddhism, in particular the philosophy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Wife in the kitchen, whore in the bedroom

The tense political atmosphere in Prague causes Kopfrkingl to feel under increasing psychological pressure. His pal Reineke stokes this further with references to the National Socialist anti-Semitic propaganda and suggestions that it would be wise to embrace one’s Germanic roots, even if none exist, and that the Jews are the cause of all society’s ills. The temptation of dirty postcards and promise of blow jobs for those who conform to the new regime is alluring.

What's going on under the table?

I'll just have a quick peep


Insert Sid James sound effect of choice here

Kopfrkingl dispatches his ‘degenerate’ Jewish employees and then murders his Jewish wife and children in several chilling sequences. 



Tales of the Unexpected meets Zardoz?

He recognises his madness is complete and encounters a hallucination of himself as a Buddha and the film ends as he finally untethers himself from reality, transcends his murderous criminality and drifts into a vision of the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's Tibetan residence. 

Wax on, wax off

Kimono my place

Giving a ghost the slip

Save the Lhasa dance for me

Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove has stark monochrome and black humour; Polanski's Repulsion has a nightmare descent into mental collapse; Svankmajer has surrealism and expressionist design: The Cremator has all of this and more - and a little touch of smut magic. A must see.

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