Pick of the Geek – The Cremator

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A Slovak Jew working in Czech Prague, Juraj Herz was an outsider even among the glorious misfits who populated the cinema scene of Communist-era Czechoslovakia. Nothing he ever did was predictable, so when he decided to address his history as an inmate of Ravensbrück concentration camp he produced the most bizarre treatment of the Holocaust in cinema history. Edited with violent speed and shot with disorientingly wide lenses, The Cremator tells the story of Karl Kopfrkingl, an unforgettable anti-hero who owns a crematorium in Prague. His faith in modern Europe as a land of peace and order is so divorced from reason and reality that it isn’t shaken a bit by the German invasion of his home country, and the Nazis repay his faith in them by letting him know about a huge, secret project they have – one that they need a lot of crematorium ovens for… With little on-screen violence and no scenes of the camps at all, Herz produces a mercilessly disturbing tale of a man radicalised not by ideological passion, but simply a lack of self-awareness. You might think of Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil”, but Kopfrkingl seems more like an example of the evil of banality, a seed of fascism lurking in the heart of his brand of obedient, self-satisfied bureaucracy. A strange apparition haunting Kopfrkingl’s waking life brings the movie closer to the horror genre, though it scarcely needs it; everything about his story is horrifying. Rather, Herz seems to have included the spectre out of a desire to mess with genre conventions, even including a strong comic undertone, though the comedy is as bleak and black as can be imagined.

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