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Days Are Numbers Film Night No. 2 – The Cremator

The Cremator

It’s that time again! Let us begin by sending out a big thank you to everyone who helped make the first Days Are Numbers Film Night such a stonking success. And to everyone who’s planning to turn up for round two, read on…

Italian neorealism, the French Nouvelle Vague and the New German Cinema (to name but three) may all be more routinely celebrated, but the postwar European film movement that is perhaps closest to my heart is the Czech New Wave (or Czechoslovak New Wave, to give it its full title). If there are any uninitiated out there who might expect the films of this movement to be drab, dogmatic and overtly social-realist (not unreasonably - Czechoslovakia was under communist rule at the time, after all), then allow me to put your mind at rest. The films of the Czechoslovak New Wave were easily among the most bizarre, imaginative and often gleefully absurd being made in Europe at the time (roughly 1962-1971) – with Juraj Herz’s pitch-black comedy/psychological horror film The Cremator being a case in point.

Celebrated Czech character actor Rudolf Hrusinsky gives an unforgettably skin-crawling performance as the superficially sober and moral, but secretly deranged, bureaucrat of the title, and to see him in action is worth the admission price alone*. As a cremator who seems to enjoy his work a little too much, he suddenly finds his services are very much in demand when the Nazi party begins to make inroads into middle class society in Munich Agreement-era Prague. The fact that his wife is Jewish – and therefore his children, too - may prove to be an obstacle to his social-climbing… But then again, he might be able to find some way around that.

The Cremator is quite simply the most convincing celluloid depiction of life in a Nazi-run society that I have ever seen, and it’s shockingly dead-eyed in its account of how a man would trade literally anything for the power that being a respected party member could bring him. That said, it is not a film which is purely concerned with recreating a moment in history, managing as it does to meld its dark drama to an artfully nightmarish mise-en-scene in a way that easily matches Roman Polanski at his best - even foreshadowing David Lynch’s work on Eraserhead in places. And believe it or not, The Cremator is also a very funny film in places, with a warring married couple regularly turning up to comment on various goings on like some kind of despairing Greek chorus – although what laughter you may derive from Herz’s remarkable film will inevitably be enjoyed in the dark.

*Of course there is no admission price at Days Are Numbers Film Night… It’s absolutely free!

Days Are Numbers are showing The Cremator at The Montpelier in Peckham at 8.30pm on Thursday the 29th of March. We hope to see you there, and until then here’s a trailer we made to whet your appetite…