The Cremator DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee Pattee
DVD released by Dark Sky Films
We judge and criticize others, rebuke them. But what about we ourselves? – Kopfrkingl
Directed by Juraj Herz
Written by Ladislav Fuks and Juraj Herz
1969, Region 1 (NTSC), 100 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on March 31st, 2009
Rudolf Hrusínskýnas as Kopfrkingl
Vlasta Chramostova as Lakmé / Dagmar
Ilja Prachar as Walter Reinke
Jana Stehnova as Zina
Milos Vognic as Mili
Jiri Menzel as Strauss
It's no secret I'm not a fan hoity toity cinema. I'll watch I'll Spit On Your Grave over Citizen Kane any day of the week, and I'll tell you why Grave is the better movie in both style and substance. That said, there are times as a reviewer things cross my path that I ordinarily wouldn't watch because they aren't my cup of tea. Movies like The Cremator.
Cremator is a perfect example of an actor elevating a film to everything it should be, and Rudolf Hrusínskýnas is that actor. Hrusínskýnas is Kopfrkingl, a rather successful cremator in Czechoslovakia during the late '30s. Kopfrkingl is an odd bird. He obsesses a lot over death — or rather cremation over burial. I mean, honestly, why would you wait 25 years for your body to decompose in the dirt when you can be ashes in just over an hour? Makes sense to me. Oh, and combing your hair with the same comb you brushed the dead lady's locks with not two seconds earlier? Perfectly normal, perfectly healthy.
Hrusínskýnas makes the movie because he plays Kopfrkingl so uncomfortably weirdly. So weirdly, that if he were portrayed any other way than Hrusínskýnas played him, I would not have given the movie as much attention as I did. But because his character was so compelling, I watched with a much closer eye, determined to learn what made Kopfrkingl tick. It was then the movie opened up to me, because Cremator has a slew of subtext going on with it. On the surface it's about a guy who is moderately successful working for a crematorium , but as you peel back the layers, you find there is a lot more going on than just Kopfrkingl's desperate attempt to raise his station in life.
The Cremator takes place in Prague, sometime during the late '30s. The Germans are at the border, just shy of a full on occupation, and when his old army pal, Reinke (Ilja Prachar) continuously pesters him to join the Nazi party, a conflicted Kopfrkingl is torn between his duty to his family, his job and how others view him. Since everything he does is based on how he appears to others, this is a heck of dilemma, especially considering his wife does not approve. She has excellent reason to take issue with Kopfrkingl's new Nazi love, but that means little to her darling husband, as the Nazi's have such wonderful, prestigious parties.
Billed as partly a black comedy, The Cremator is just a bit too uncomfortable and surreal to truly meet that description. There are definitely some uncomfortable laughs to be had throughout the movie, but as the film goes on, it becomes less funny and more disturbing. Sure, Hrusínskýnas' performance adds to that, but once the Nazis come into play it becomes legitimately unnerving. Hrusínskýnas has an excuse for the path he takes — he's crazy. But what about the others who went down that same road? They aren't afforded the luxury of being a sociopath.
Adding to the surrealism of the film is Juraj Herz's brilliant directing. He maintains unbalanced atmosphere with extreme close ups, fish eye filters, off center shots and jarring transitions. Jarring not because of the harshness, but rather they are unnaturally smooth. You'll be watching Kopfrkingl step to a podium and start giving a speech to potential customers, then the camera will pan out and you'll see he's suddenly talking to his family at the dinner table. The last time I saw so many transitions of this nature was in the film Stay, but in that case, the style failed miserably. In Stay, the transitions felt nothing more than an exercise in filmmaking, but in Cremator it really, really works, because it not only keeps you on your toes, in some way you are as disoriented as Kopfrkingl's mind.
Herz's direction coupled with Hrusínskýnas performance makes The Cremator a very strong recommendation. It certainly isn't one for the average movie goer, but fans of Lynch, Miike and the like will definitely get something out of it. Lovers of psychological horror will dig it, too, as the movie has a lot of mind fuck uppery to its finale (which is as unsettling as the rest of the movie).
Video and Audio:
Wow! Dark Sky delivers a fantastic 1.66:1 anamorphic presentation in The Cremator. Filmed in black and white, the picture is crisp and clear with very few blemishes. There is some print damage here and there, but the film is 40 years old, so I would be shocked if there was none.
The 2.0 audio sounds as good as the video looks. Dialogue is clear, and everything is well balanced.
English subtitles are available.
Surprisingly enough, there are no special features. Not even a trailer. This is very unusual for Dark Sky, and I'm curious on why nothing was put on here.
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