the cremator (juraj herz, 1969)

A very odd film, which isn't news to the many fans who have made it a cult classic over the years. From what I knew, I expected an arty horror film, and that's not entirely incorrect. But while The Cremator is creepy from the start, it goes in a direction which makes sense in the end but which I didn't anticipate at first.

Rudolf Hrušínský plays the title character, Kopfrkingl, a man who runs a crematorium and has some big ideas about expanding his business. Hrušínský is the reason the film is creepy from the start ... he plays the cremator as if Peter Lorre's character from M somehow managed to fit into polite society. Much of the movie is taken with Kopfrkingl philosophizing about his job, inspired by Tibetan Buddhism. Hrušínský gives an otherworldly performance, and the dialogue by Juraj Herz (from a novel by Ladislav Fuks) gives Hrušínský plenty of opportunity to impress. The look of the film (Stanislav Milota is the cinematographer) is suitably disturbing, in line with the musings of Kopfrkingl.

The film takes place in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, during the rise of the Third Reich. The gradual move by Kopfrkingl towards Nazism is a bit hard to believe at first, but by the end of the film, Hrušínský convinces us that the combination of Kopfrkingl's occupation, his Buddhist tendencies, and his growing madness lead inexorably towards the ultimate horror, a horror made somehow even worse by the way Kopfrkingl comes to think of himself as the next Dalai Lama.

The Cremator is unsettling, and its various comedic touches might convince some that Herz isn't really serious here, that it's "just a horror movie". But it's horror where subtext becomes text, and it's a movie you won't soon forget.

journey to the beginning of time (karel zeman, 1955)

This is the ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 9 is called "Central/Eastern European Animation Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen animated film from central or eastern Europe. Here is a list to get you started.

This movie was a challenge, indeed, for I had to struggle to find a movie that fit the category. The suggested list did not have anything I could stream, other than a few shorts. I stretched out, did a little research, and opted for something by Karel Zeman, an influential Czech director and animator. Journey to the Beginning of Time was Zeman's first recognized classic, combining live action and stop-motion animation. It is perhaps more of a hybrid than the challenge asked for, but I did my best.

Four young boys embark in a row boat on a trip that takes them progressively back in time through various prehistoric eras. Zeman follows the science as it was known at the time, and his representation of the various creatures was influenced by Zdeněk Burian, a Czech artist known for his "palaeo-art". The blending of the live actors and the animated creatures is fairly sophisticated for its time. While the boys are on an adventure, the film works more as an instructive display on prehistory. As such, it is a clever movie that, during its running time, distracts us from the nonsensical setup.

A few years after its release, an American version was created, with a new introduction and dubbing. The core of the film was the same, but the framing device was silly, and there is no reason to see this version (I watched ten minutes or so just to see what it was like).