The European character actor Daniel Emilfork (born and occasionally credited as Daniel Emilfork Berenstein) served as a living testament to how one can turn physical qualities perceived as massive disadvantages into a larger-than-life screen career. Relentlessly teased and mocked as a child for his bizarre appearance (one journalist later compared his head to that of a skinned sheep), the wan, bony, and hangdog-faced Emilfork -- a man of Jewish Ukrainian heritage, born in Chile in 1924 -- suffered tremendously from goading at the hands of his peers, but found new life after he moved to the City of Lights in 1948. Though he initially taught English to Parisian students during the early post-war era, Emilfork soon devised the idea of capitalizing on his strange visage by training as a dramatist and typecasting himself as a villain -- thus overcoming his internalized pain and "conquering the world," as he had promised himself that he would from an early age.
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The ploy worked brilliantly. Emilfork landed many stage roles -- almost always as a nasty -- then took his cinematic bow as Quasimodo in Jean Delannoy's 1957 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (aka Notre Dame de Paris), alongside luminaries Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida. Innumerable screen characterizations ensued during the '60s, including Gant de Crin in La Poupée (1962), Gunther in Un Château en Suède (1963), and Gregory in The Liquidator (1966). In 1964, Emilfork made a rare departure from Europe, traveling to the U.S. to play a bit part in Clive Donner's What's New, Pussycat? (released 1965), scripted by Woody Allen.
Emilfork found particularly broad international exposure during the '70s with two key roles in very different films. In the 1971 French-Italian-Belgian occult horror picture The Devil's Nightmare, directed by Jean Brismee, he plays a mysterious man, clad in a black cape, who directs seven tourists to sacrificial death at the hands of a succubus. And in 1976, Emilfork came to the attention of Federico Fellini. This union hardly shocked anyone, given the Cinecittà director's worship of the freakish, eccentric, and grotesque -- more surprising is that it didn't happen years prior. Kismet at last: they met and collaborated on the director's 1976 Fellini's Casanova, in which Emilfork played Du Bois alongside Donald Sutherland's title character.
Many additional roles followed throughout the late '70s, '80s, and '90s. Emilfork's higher-profile parts during this period included that of Saint-Juste in Ted Kotcheff's Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978), Francis in Alain Robbe-Grillet's La Belle Captive (1983), and Hendrik in Roman Polanski's high-seas farce Pirates (1986).
Emilfork saved his most notorious role for one of his last, however. In 1994, just as the actor's onscreen involvement began to decline, directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro tapped him to headline the cast of their outrageously inventive fantasy The City of Lost Children (aka La Cité des Enfants Perdus, 1995). Emilfork plays Krank, an insane scientist headquartered on a kind of offshore drilling rig platform, who uses one-eyed henchmen to kidnap small children from a village so that he can steal their dreams.
A supporting role in Frederic Jardin's Les Frères Soeur (2000) marked the then-75-year-old Emilfork's last major screen appearance. He died of unspecified causes, at age 82, on October 17, 2006. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi