Life is rough for Erhao: widowed for the third time by an explosion at the fireworks factory she ran with her husband, she only just survives the accident. Semi-comatose and staying with her in-laws, she is raped by her brother-in-law. This sets her off on a quest through rural China that can perhaps also be seen as an escape fantasy.
Together with her dead husband’s deaf brother, Erhao leaves her relatives’ home in search of somewhere that can offer warmth and shelter. But this is in short supply in a social climate as cold and hard as the icy winter landscape of The Widowed Witch. Mistrust, superstition and opportunism always trump empathy, but after Erhao is involved in a number of miraculous events she notices that the same mechanisms can work to her advantage.
Colour flickers now and again in the mainly monochrome images in this dark satire that highlights the moral vacuum in this impoverished part of China. We follow Erhao through wide-open landscapes and claustrophobic, cluttered interiors, banal conversations and supernatural meetings. Her new role as a shaman definitely seems to have a positive influence on the lives of various locals; but improving people seems beyond her powers. An earlier version of The Widowed Witch screened to much acclaim in Xining First Film Festival, and has since been shortened, re-edited, and subtitled.
Winner Hivos Tiger Award, IFFR 2018.