Film Review: Women Talking (2022)

Sarah Polley’s Women Talking soars due to beautiful direction and a stellar ensemble

“Sometimes I think people laugh as hard as they’d like to cry”

Adapted by Sarah Polley from Miriam Toews’ bestselling novel which was inspired by a real-life case of Mennonite women in Bolivia being systematically drugged and raped in their community, Women Talking initially hits with the force of a sledgehammer, before settling into deep-felt and ferocious debate about the biggest of ethical questions that, disturbingly, feel pressingly pertinent to women across the globe today.

In a contemporary, unnamed Mennonite colony, the women are reeling from the revelation that the men have been using livestock tranquilizer to subdue and rape them. The culprits have been arrested and the rest of the men have gone to bail them out from the nearest city and in the meantime, the women are holding a meeting to decide what, if any, response to give – stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.

They’ve all been traumatised by this long-running treatment in one way or another and in a society that represses individual thought for women, the opportunity to speak their minds freely is one which plays out differently for all concerned, provoking a range of responses as they struggle to come to some – any – kind of consensus. Rage and resentment sit up against fear and forgiveness, it’s almost overwhelming.

Polley keeps the film from ever tipping too far though. The saturated colours from cinematographer Luc Montpellier and the atmospheric edges of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score guide us firmly through the wordy script. And talents such as Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara and Frances McDormand shine through the committed ensemble work as they wrestle with the impossibilities and possibilities of wrestling with the patriarchy.

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