“The Cremator” by Juraj Herz

Food for Thought

The film we went to see last night at Metrograph, “The Cremator” by Juraj Herz, was released in 1969. We knew practically nothing about Czechoslovakia which, according to Wikipedia, split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. To which country do we credit the film? I don’t know. Earlier this week, I had dinner at a Czech restaurant in Queens. Would it be more proper to say “Czechoslovakian food” as I assume that the food hasn’t evolved since 1993?

If the US split into two nations, how would we divide the ownership of its history? It would be quite different, I’d imagine, depending on where we draw the border—north and south versus east and west.

We sat down to discuss the movie at the BBQ restaurant in Lower East Side with a severe thunderstorm in our background. It was a disturbing film, so it took us a while to process and start talking about it. It was the first Czech film any of us have ever seen. We didn’t know that some Czechs were in support of the Nazi, which is probably why the film was banned by the communist government, as Allegra pointed out. They didn’t want the world to know some Czechs were Nazi sympathizers.

Ian pointed out how similar it is to American Psycho in terms of the unreliable narrator. Very true. In fact, it’s so similar that I now feel like American Psycho was a remake of The Cremator. The filmmaker for the former had probably seen the latter. From the beginning, the protagonists of both films exhibit psychotic symptoms which become progressively worse, ultimately leading to a complete psychotic break. Both movies are presented through a psychotic gaze, so we are not quite sure what is real and what is imagined. This technique was used in such a subtle way, particularly in the first half, that it disorients us as viewers as if we are having psychotic symptoms ourselves. Hitchcock’s Psycho did not use this technique, and I had assumed that the filmmaker of American Psycho had invented it.

These days, there aren’t many reasons to go see movies in theatres, but if the movie has enough depth, it becomes worthwhile to process it with your friends immediately afterward. Your appreciation of it multiplies.