Monday, April 7, 2014

The Cremator (1969)

Original title: Spalovac Mrtvol

Director: Juraj Herz

Writers: Ladislav Fuks, Juraj Herz

Starring: Rudolf Hrusinsky, Vlasta Chramostova, Jana Stehnova, Milos Vognic, Zora Bozinova, Ilja Prachar, Eduard Kohout, Jiri Menzel, Mila Myslikova

More info: IMDb

Plot: Kopfrkingl enjoys his job at a crematorium in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. He likes reading the Tibetan book of the dead, and espouses the view that cremation relieves earthly suffering. At a reception, he meets Reineke, with whom he fought for Austria in the first World War. Reineke convinces Kopfrkingl to emphasize his supposedly German heritage, including sending his timid son to the German school. Reineke then suggests that Kopfrkingl's half-Jewish wife is holding back his advancement in his job.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

I've seen this three times now over the past dozen years and it's still as mesmerizing as the first time.  Kopfrkingl (hauntingly played by Rudolf Hrusinsky) is with us the entire time.  We hear his thoughts as he descends into the madness that was the Nazi ideology of racial purity.  He's seduced by power to the point of killing his boss so he can take over the local crematorium but it doesn't stop there.  He looks at his family with suspect.  His wife is half Jewish and his two children are one quarter.  Should they live?  As he gets further sucked into this world he convinces himself that it would be an act of kindness and mercy to kill them as they have no place on this Earth.  Zdenek Liska's score is soothing and hypnotic as is  Hrusinsky's smooth and comforting voice.  If you didn't understand the language and just listened to the film, you'd have no idea that this film had such a dark subject.  Herz expertly, along with cinematographer Stanisalv Milota, take you on an unusual journey into the mind of a man who is slowly consumed by power and madness.  In the end, it's easier to look at those responsible, even in the smallest way, and see how powerful the Nazi propaganda machine was. 

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