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.