Women Talking
Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Sarah Polley delivers another winner in Women Talking

Sarah Polley continues to make a name for herself as a director with her latest film, Women Talking. The film adapts Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel of the same name, which tells the true story of an insular, ultraconservative Mennonite community in Bolivia. 

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. The women include Ona (Rooney Mara), Salome (Claire Foy), and Marchie (Jessie Buckley). For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were drugged and attacked by a group of men from their community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women―all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community, and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in―have minimal time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

As soon as the exposition is established, the film moves on to the aftermath and the following debates. During their conversations, the women never become stressed about the violence itself. However, there are some brief cutaways to their pasts (including a few the day after they are assaulted), nor are the men, apart from August, a local school teacher who transcribes their discussions, ever-present.

In many parts of the film, we hear these conversations as the women gradually open up more about their pain. For many of them, the hope their faith affords them. It is worth noting that the film portrays a positive attitude towards Christianity, or at least a neutral one towards it, rather than depicting characters who have abandoned their religious beliefs.

Women Talking is a tough film on many levels, not only in terms of its depiction of violence but also in its visual storytelling. The desaturated cinematography (which has already been subject to debate) puts less emphasis on the setting and more on the characters (and their excellent performances of them as well).

In the beginning, it is difficult to reconcile with the subject matter due to the women’s rapid pacing and occasional interjections of humor as they work through their grief and tries to make sense of it. But the catharsis that the film ultimately offers for these women and those who have experienced abuse, oppression, or doubt, allows for Women Talking, which might otherwise be a dark and disturbing story, to be accessible to broad audiences.

 

Final Grade : B +

Women Talking is in theaters now.

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