TL;DR – A stunningly devastating film, brimming with empathy and power in equal measures
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film
Warning – This film contains scenes that may cause distress
Women Talking Review –
When I walked in to see Women Talking, I was unsure exactly what I would see. Oh, I expected it to be heavy in tone and subject matter. But I had no idea how they would address that subject, given the immense complexities baked into the scenario. A scenario that was inspired by actual events of the worst kind. However, as I walked out of the theatre, I knew I had witnessed something profound.
So to set the scene, in an isolated Mennonite colony in rural USA, the women have been plagued by attacks where they wake up covered in bruises on their legs. The community leaders say it is demons or that the women are making it up until one of the attackers is captured trying to sneak into a teenager’s bedroom. The police round up many of the community’s men accused or fingered in the attacks, but instead of supporting their women, the men gather up everything they can sell to go into town and post bail for the attackers. They will return in two days, and the women must forgive the attackers or be excommunicated. They have three choices, do nothing, stay and fight, or leave, which have dramatic repercussions on their lives.
Now to be clear from the start, this is a heavy film dealing with severe topics of rape, assault, abuse, and suicide. This will make this a complicated watch for anyone, even worse considering that the inciting incident is based on an actual world event of men using veterinary tranquilisers to knock their victims out and the community to shield their actions. I say this from the start, not to dissuade you from watching, you very much should, but to give you the information you need to prepare yourself before you do.
Rarely have I seen a film where the title is almost a completely literal description of what the film entails. Narratively, three families of women are chosen by the community to be their voices as they debate what to do after the community vote leads to a tie. This means that the vast majority of the run time is spent in the one hay loft of a barn as they discuss, debate, and argue. Scenarios like this have a habit of losing me because the cast must sell every moment because there is nowhere to hind, and this is one of the few films I have seen that pulls it off.
For this film to work, you need to believe that every performance comes from a place of honesty because, without that, the entire artifice of the movie falls apart. There is not a single wasted moment in the whole film nor a cast member that is not giving their all. All emotions, rage, fear, laughter, pain, and even indifference come from a real place. Because of this, you hang on every shift in the room, every revelation, and the realisation that there is a limited window to work all of this out. It crafts a world that connects with you on a profound level, less a slap in the face of emotion but the tide coming in and flowing all around you.
The rage you feel in every moment of Claire Foy’s performance as Salome is punctuated by the quiet sadness of August Winter as Melvin. Sheila McCarthy as Greta provides some of the more comedic elements and the hard life lessons. Judith Ivey as Agata is the film’s emotional core, while Rooney Mara as Ona embodies hope. While the debates are happening, Ben Whishaw, as August, is there as the schoolteacher who fits awkwardly in the community given his own past. All the characters are processing trauma both the personal violations and the communal with the destruction of the social structure they had lived their lives in. I think the one surprise on the acting front is just how little Frances McDormand is in the film.
One area that I was surprised to see was an honest and grounded exploration of faith. An honest exploration of faith in cinema is rare as it is often shoehorned into low-grade propaganda works or used in a token way to give flavour to a character without any personality. Here faith is a core component of the women’s lives that gives them strength, but it is also part of the social hierarchy that has led to the situation they find themselves in. It pulls at different characters in different ways. It is a source of comfort or frustration, but always at the core of who they are and their perspective.
Moving away from the performances and narrative, the production of this film is exquisite. They make that barn come alive with details and highlights that make me feel like this has to be a real location they found because if it was constructed, then the production designers should be owed all the trophies on what a phenomenal effort with the costumes, buggies, and home interiors was already. Combined with the camera work, it creates a timeless and distinct film. Every part of the film is highlighted thanks to the stunning musical score from Hildur Guðnadóttir, with strings being used as counterpoints to haunting percussion.
In the end, do we recommend Women Talking? Absolutely. Now, do not get me wrong, this is a challenging and confronting film at times, and it does not hide from the themes it explores. However, Sarah Polley brings the closed world to life and centres the story on the voices that need to be heard. It is a mix of emotions and affected my soul deeply. If you liked Women Talking, we would recommend to you The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Women Talking
Directed by – Sarah Polley
Screenplay by – Sarah Polley
Based on – Women Talking by Miriam Toews
Music by – Hildur Guðnadóttir
Cinematography by – Luc Montpellier
Edited by – Christopher Donaldson & Roslyn Kalloo
Production/Distribution Companies – Orion Pictures, Hear/Say Productions, Plan B Entertainment, MGM, United Artists Releasing & Universal Pictures.
Starring – Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, Emily Mitchell, Kate Hallett, Liv McNeil, Claire Foy, Sheila McCarthy, Jessie Buckley, Michelle McLeod, Kira Guloien, Shayla Brown, Frances McDormand, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Ben Whishaw, August Winter, Lochlan Miller, Nathaniel McParland, Will Bowes & Eli Ham
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: RP13; United Kingdom: 15; United States: PG-13
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