The Cremator,
a most peculiar hero!




In 1969, Czech filmmaker Juraj Herz created a hallucinatory work, highlighting, in black and white bleach, a character he transforms from mediocrity to madness: Karel Kopfrkingl.

The man is not very tall, not very handsome with his plastered hair and evenly-spaced wrinkles on his forehead. Well fed, he displays a full face, a slightly thick corpulence and the permanent smile of someone in perpetual conversation with himself. This character who has a theory on everything, especially death and corpses, intends to initiate the Czechoslovakia of 1930 to the joys of the crematorium. By choosing to develop a permanently self-satisfied character, filmmaker Juraj Herz explores how a small, average man is the ideal and tranquil specimen, primed for horror. Through unusual idiosyncrasies, like combing the hair of the corpses he handles with his own comb, the director draws the portrait of a person full of manias, who believes in his destiny. All that’s missing is a spark to trigger him. So when an old acquaintance comes to discuss the Nazi theories gradually contaminating Europe, Kopfrkingl convinces himself that he has a drop of German blood in his veins. Everything becomes telescoped: the images of the dead, those of the world of humans, of animals with cats’ heads and its various pinned flies. Herz, through his syncopated montage, at times framing his shots in extreme close-up so we see only the characters’ forehead, shows, with impressive visual power, how banality can be coaxed into madness.







Virginie Apiou


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