Review: ‘The Cremator’

Another Asian film on undertakers following "Departures," "Make Up" and "Weight," "The Cremator" is slow to stir from its narrative coma and stiff perfs, before igniting a flicker of warmth via its protag's timid friendship with an equally bereft femme. Training a dispassionate eye on the socially marginalized, Chinese independent helmer Peng Tao depicts the economic exploitation and indignity of death, but the impact is neither as caustic nor as gut-wrenching as his expose of child beggars, "Little Moth." Theatrical afterlife is unlikely to follow fest play.

Another Asian film on undertakers following “Departures,” “Make Up” and “Weight,” “The Cremator” is slow to stir from its narrative coma and stiff perfs, before igniting a flicker of warmth via its protag’s timid friendship with an equally bereft femme. Training a dispassionate eye on the socially marginalized, Chinese independent helmer Peng Tao depicts the economic exploitation and indignity of death, but the impact is neither as caustic nor as gut-wrenching as his expose of child beggars, “Little Moth.” Theatrical afterlife is unlikely to follow fest play.

Thanks to a local burial custom, mortician Cao (Cheng Zhengwu) has a sideline sneaking out unidentified female bodies to be traded as “gate-passing spouses” for dead bachelors. Diagnosed with cancer, he reserves himself a corpse bride, but has second thoughts when his “fiancee’s” sister, Xiangju (Wolf Girl), comes looking for her. Although the characters’ friendship comes to a doleful resolution, lenser Li Xi’s flat medium shots combine with harsh lighting in a dreary evocation of loneliness, especially when the subject looks like death warmed up.

The Cremator

China

Production

A PAD Intl. release of a Heaven Pictures (Beijing) Culture & Media Co. production. (International sales: PAD Intl., Hong Kong.) Produced by Gao Hong, Peng Tao. Directed, written by Peng Tao.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Li Xi; production designer, Ai Xianhong; costume designer, Luo Ning; sound (SRD 5.1), Zhang Yang; Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 9, 2012. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Cheng Zhengwu, Wolf Girl. (Mandarin dialogue)

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