Quick Film Guide: The Cremator (Juraj Herz, 1969)

Spalovač mrtvol
Directed by Juraj Herz

The portrait of a cremator, Karel Kopfrkingl, who believes himself a type of godlike creature with powers to liberate the souls of the dead. A haunting depiction of obsession and delusion, The Cremator was predictably banned by Communist authorities after its premiere in 1969 and stayed banned until 1989. Today, it is widely celebrated as a highlight title of the Czechoslovak New Wave.

Kopfrkingl is interpreted by actor Rudolph Hrusinsky, whose presence is at once slimy and vicious, pathetic and dangerous. His performance is at the center of this character-driven film, directed by Juraj Herz, whose surrealist style is complemented by excellent black and white photography, wide angled lenses and bizarre viewpoints and a Kafkaesque sense of humor.

Though The Cremator is set in Prague in the ’30s, with Czechoslovakia on the verge of Nazi German occupation, it is an exploration of the political radicalization of Europe of the 20th century in general – which is why it was banned in its home country.

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