On the way to the crematorium that looks like an oriental temple, there’s a kiosk where you can buy cream coffins and vanilla mourning wreaths. The crematorium’s manager, Karel Kopfrkingl, quotes the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ in a hypnotically melodic voice and liberates souls by turning the body into ashes in 75 minutes flat; he is also the proud head of his family and a teetotaler. During special moments he likes to play Mahler’s ‘Songs on the Death of Children’ or the more lively ‘Danse Macabre’ by Saint-Saëns. The great German nation is promising great things for his ambitions… if only it weren’t for the Jewish blood in the veins of his wife and acquaintances.
The screenplay was developed by Herz together with the innovative author Ladislav Fuks, on whose novel it is based. The film takes place in Prague before and after the 1938 Munich Agreement that ceded to Germany the German-inhabited Sudetenland, but which then led to the occupation of the whole of Czechoslovakia. This work with perfect aesthetic structure both attracts and repels, much like a narcissistic psyche or grand ideas that have devastating consequences. With its surrealism, expressionism and the blackest of humour, not to mention being banned, this is mandatory viewing for those into multi-layered and unusual cinema.
Foreword by the programme curator: Unique baroque cinema that surprises with the vibrancy of its black and white presence. The lead actor has played Švejk.