The Widowed Witch

From The dGenerate Films Collection

Directed by Cai Chengjie

120 minutes / Color/B&W
Mandarin / English subtitles
Release: 2018
Copyright: 2017

Winner of the top prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival, director Cai Chengjie’s debut feature—which was shot in 11 days on borrowed equipment—is, like its titular protagonist, unexpectedly powerful and fiercely unpredictable.

film poster

Deemed cursed by the local villagers, three-time widow Er Hao (Tian Tian) has her hands full with a rogue fireworks explosion, a tagalong teenager, and a veritable army of crazed local men who can’t keep their hands off her. Turned away when she seeks shelter from her neighbors and forced to take up residence in a cold camper van, Er Hao’s future looks as bleak as the stark, snowy countryside.

But a series of fluke changes in fortune causes Er Hao to embrace the mystical identity her villagers have assigned to her. As a sort of modern shaman, she steers superstitions into small subversions, helping others who once shunned her and proving that to survive as a woman is a kind of magic.

THE WIDOWED WITCH fearlessly addresses the power of religion in China which, according to the dictates of Communism, is effectively banned. It also conveys the cruelty that can come with village life, and counters the Western narrative of China as a superpower by showing a place where the rule of law is all but nonexistent. Not only is there no recourse or safety net, even the rape that Er Hao suffers goes unpunished. Abused and shunned, Er Hao gains power over the men who have wronged her—but can she find a place in a misogynist, patriarchal and deeply lonely social structure?

With a stunning array of visual styles and a genre-exploding approach to storytelling, THE WIDOWED WITCH is a simultaneously idealistic and despairing film—a bleak view wrapped in a fabulist aesthetic, and one that encompasses both magic realism and crushing social satire.

"An astounding artistic achievement." Eija Niskanen, VCinema

"An appealingly eccentric fable."Guy Lodge, Variety

"Cai Chengjie’s deadpan fairy tale takes on the contradictions of superstition and the furious chimera of women’s power to conjure an intriguing, misshapen magic." —Maya E. Rudolph, Iceberg Film

"Intriguing and visually striking! A haunting and memorable work [that is] invested with a potent feminist edge." —Christopher Bourne, Screen Anarchy

"A mesmerizing feminist take that surprises and shocks; a film that adventurous festivalgoers won’t want to miss. I loved it." —Randy Myers, Santa Cruz Sentinel

"Delightful; an intriguing feminist story." —Gillian Anderson, The Stranger

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A film by Cai Chengjie

Starring Tian Tian

Select Accolades

  • Golden Tiger, Rotterdam International Film Festival 2018
  • Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress, Las Palmas Film Festival 2018
  • Best Director and Best Drama, FIRST International Film Festival 2017
  • Hong Kong International Film Festival 2018
  • Taipei International Film Festival 2018


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