“Shall I hang you, my dear?”
corpse burner is a work well known among older Czech viewers and quoted countless times. Despite the high ratings on film portals such as ČSFD (89% and the 8th best domestic film ever) and foreign IMDb (8/10 and one of the best rated horror films ever) I can’t shake the feeling of half-forgottenness like Markéta Lazarová, the existence of which few Czech viewers remember, and even fewer of them have actually seen it. At the same time, in both cases, these are seminal works so timeless in their concept and sound that literally the whole world can envy them.
One of the main reasons without which would corpse burner it certainly wasn’t a great movie, it’s a novella by the author Ladislav Fuksa, which is still offered as compulsory reading for high school graduates. However, not everyone finds the morbid topic friendly, and I’ll admit right away that I haven’t read the book yet either, and hopefully I’ll fix that soon.
This time, fortunately, it is not such a handicap as with other films that deviate from the original in many ways, and Burners I can also appreciate it as a separate film work. Fuks himself actively participated together with the director Juraj Herz on the script, and therefore the result differs from the novel only in minor details, without losing the idea and the heavy atmosphere of the environment separating life from death.
“Death frees man from pain and suffering.”
While the book format generally relies on the reader’s imagination, supporting it with extensive descriptions of characters, inner thoughts and environments, film is a visual medium that is primarily meant to tell through images. It sounds obvious, but many authors often forget this basic rule, and their films end up suffering from sweeping exposition, overabundance of characters, plot twists, and little visual play.
Films also rarely succeed in successfully and engagingly transferring the hero’s inner thoughts to the screen, and often, out of necessity for virtue, they resort to the ordinary voiceover of narrators describing what we often see ourselves on the screen or should properly see. I like to use Svěrák’s legendary message for this: “The wipers and washers, you don’t have to report it, I can see it.” And although we all hear it, we still learn that “horn blows”.
Cinematic Incinerators of corpses successfully manages to visually depict the life of a crematorium employee Karel Kopfrkingl, who is so obsessed with his profession that he evokes in him strong unrelenting maniacal ideas of turning man into dust and separating the human soul from the impure body. His positive qualities are principles, professionalism and virtue, thanks to which we can easily sympathize with his character. This is a typical anti-hero.
At the same time, Kopfrkingl loves his wife and two children above all else, but he never puts them above his mission. Instead of peaceful conversations, the family has to constantly listen to extensive explanations about the afterlife, purification and reincarnation, which Kopfrkingl draws from Buddhism, and selfishly does not give them space to express themselves. After all, about 60% of all text comes from the mouth of the famous Rudolf Hrušínský St.which I will look at differently in all other films from now on.
“Will you wear a casket or a wreath?”
For example, talking about cremation in front of future members of the NSDAP is not as morbid as at a family Christmas dinner. In short, Mr. Koprfkingl is unable or unwilling to separate his professional life from his private life, which drives him to brutal actions and opinions, in which the story beautifully progresses. Smart and unobtrusive cut Jaromír Janáčekwhich is unparalleled in Czechoslovak filmography, and camera tricks Stanislav Milota these scenes intertwine for us to confuse the viewer before he figures out where he is and who he is there with.
However, the right filmmaker also knows that in order for a scene to evoke the right feelings, it is essential to film it thoroughly. Therefore, the use of a hand-held 16 millimeter Arriflex camera with a special wide-angle lens called a fisheye, combining a claustrophobically distorted field of view with a close-up shot of Mr. Kopfrkingl, as for example performed in the rooms of the Strašnické crematorium by a novice who plays Jiří Menzel.
“The only thing certain in life is death.”
Mr. Kopfrkingl is a full-fledged and memorable character, whose story keeps us interested from the beginning to even, regardless of what he leads, with his actions functionally gradation. Where we root for genuine heroes wading through one quagmire after another to reach the desired catharsis and liberation, we wish anti-heroes the exact opposite and be punished for their actions.
However, unlike fairy tales and romantic stories with the assumption of a happy ending, anti-heroes have wider options for ending their story. As we know from the real world, sometimes evil wins and there is nothing we can do about it. Contrary to the book model, Mr. Kopfrkingl goes towards his life’s mission – to help construct one of the biggest crimes against humanity – and reach the top. corpse burner it ends very bitterly in both cases, but the film adaptation raises the bitterness to a higher level.
Personally, I always appreciate a similar level of controversy in films, because if someone is to tell us the truth about who we are and what we are capable of, then it is always better if they are artists in their works, and not frustrated individuals in real deeds. And every time we can breathe a sigh of relief that it was only a movie/book.
Not just in case Corpse incinerators among other things, there is an aftertaste in the form of the long-term closure of the film in the infamous film vault. Without wanting to defend the censors of the time, Burner is really a work of a controversial nature, for which society may not have been sufficiently prepared at the time. But if someone perceives only the anti-hero’s sympathy with a forbidden ideology and does not read between the lines, then he lowers himself to the level of characters from the story, with whom the viewer is not supposed to sympathize.
“Bad people are bad only because nobody ever gave them a little love.”
Unfortunately, political correctness is again (in)conspicuously creeping into contemporary cinematography and robbing artists of the opportunity to experiment. However, historically they are always those artists who were not afraid to go against the flow, constructively criticize and pass on wisdom wrapped in engaging stories for future generations.
What a book War and Peace, Calm on the Western Front, Stories of Soldier Švejk didn’t they go against the flow of the time? Thanks to this and the precise processing, they are almost immortal compared to the “collaborative mode” works, which today cannot be read/watched or cannot be laughed at.
Films, books and other art are meant to either purely entertain the viewer and allow them to escape from the woes of the current world, or convey an idea and allow them to criticize us all. However, rarely can these factors be combined together. And if so, the exception proves the rule.
I recently lamented the fact that the Czech audience cannot appreciate quality films, so in recent years we tend to go for easy-to-digest films rather than true art. Personal taste and genre preferences are up to each of us, and I don’t find anything particularly wrong with the reasons for wanting to have fun, other than watching criticism of contemporary life.
But what is too much is too much. And I think I won’t be the only one who would appreciate a socially prickly spectacle like this one far more often than once a Hungarian year corpse burner, which I firmly believe my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino, would enjoy as much as I do. At least we can console ourselves that in our archives, for us demanding viewers, there is still something to choose from.