Women Talking Review: Telling the truth to power
“While Sarah Polley’s Women Talking has its flaws, its great acting and resonant screenplay make it the first must-see film of 2023.”
An outstanding cast of actors
A lack of suspense over the ending of the film
women talk must have one of the most honest titles in the film industry. Women talk to each other, for and about each other – often friendly, sometimes not – and what they tell for 104 minutes is downright exciting.
Yet the film, written and directed by Sarah Polley (away from her), is more than just a celebratory chamber play; it’s also surprisingly funny at times, uplifting without being corny, deeply moving, and also wacky in all the ways it only slightly misses the mark. It’s a prime example of how a flawed film can be more powerful than a perfect one, and maybe that’s the point of the whole picture.
women talk begins after a series of violent sexual assaults against the women of an isolated Mennonite community somewhere in the heartland. These attacks took place over a period of several years by the colony’s fathers, husbands and sons, and one of them was attacked by one of the victims.
With the attacker locked up in a distant secular prison for his crime, the Mennonite men leave the community to ransom him, giving the women a rare opportunity to gather and weigh their options: do nothing and turn a blind eye to the abuse , stay and fight for the land and family they have cultivated over the years, or leave to find a new home.
Already in the first five minutes, a generation of trauma is conveyed and the central dilemma of the film is presented. The next 100 minutes focus on a group of 10 women – some of them mothers and grandmothers, some just children, all affected in some way by sexual violence in their community – as they sit down in a barn to discuss the future of zu discuss themselves, their families, their community and their faith.
The film’s main strength is getting to know each of these women (and a man who sympathizes with their plight). There’s Ona (Rooney Mara), who is unmarried and pregnant by one of her attackers; Salomé (The crown‘s Claire Foy), who has fought back from her attacking attempt in the opening and is dying to fight some more; Mariche (Jessie Buckley), stuck in an abusive marriage and venting her anger on others; Agata (Judith Ivey) and Greta (Shelia McCarthy), the community’s two elderly stateswomen, who weigh the logistical, personal, and spiritual complications of every decision they make; Nettie (August Winter), the victim of an attack that has left her mute and suspicious of adults; and Scarface Janz (Frances McDormand), who lurks on the sidelines as the main representative of the “doing nothing” faction.
There’s also August (Ben Whishaw), the group’s lone man, who is there to keep the minutes of the meeting and serves as a potential love interest for Ona. Some of these characters are related to each other. while some loathe one another. However, they all share a common desire to talk about their current situation and to weigh the pros and cons of each decision.
Like the great classic from 1957 12 angry men, there is more than enough interest and drama to watch these characters question each other and themselves. Is it wrong to walk in the eyes of God? Is it right to stay even under the constant threat of physical and psychological violence? If they leave, do they abandon their male children? And where will they go when they leave the community they have always belonged to? It’s proof of how good women talk is that these issues are discussed in a way that never feels staged or stagnant, despite the majority of the film being set in a barn.
The outstanding cast gives the film’s central arguments the weight they deserve. Mara bestows Ona with a serenity and inner calm that contrasts with the often heated scenario she is placed in. Foy’s Salome is filled with fire and fury, ready to stay and fight anyone who dares cross her path. Both Ivey and McCarthy bring a subtle consistency and wisdom to their low-key performances, which serve as the group’s center of gravity.
As Mariche, Buckley is simply superb, using her character’s sarcasm to mask deep wounds that are reluctantly revealed towards the end of the film. And Whishaw delivers a heartbreaking performance as August, whose love for Ona is matched only by an inner sadness that emerges at the climax. All of these players work together in wonderful harmony, creating a sense of authentic community that helps sell the high stakes.
If the acting cast is absolutely perfect, the rest of the film is less so. Polley deviates too much from the central conflict in the barn in the first hour, weakening what should be a strong setup. Perhaps wary of appearing too staged, Polley instead frequently cuts to arbitrary parts of the plot, from girls strolling in sunlit fields to depicting the aftermath of each of the women’s attacks. The result is both frustrating and confusing, as tracking the progress of the debate is sometimes more complicated than necessary.
At one point, one character asks to vote again on whether to stay or leave, to which another replies, “Didn’t we just do that?” A sense of repetition creeps in as the central question is repeatedly asked and answered . Less time is spent really examining some of the issues the film raises, such as how women’s beliefs clash with the violence they have endured. Not one person is angry with their God for allowing this, which clashes with the newfound spirit of rebellion that each woman displays in her own way.
Also, there’s no real tension about what the women will go for. The Doing Nothing faction gets no vote; After the beginning, they are quickly dismissed, with only McDormand’s Scarface Janz appearing sporadically with her silent scowl. Why should these women stay? what is you Dispute? In contrast, the “Leave” faction is given too much weight to really create excitement about how the debate will turn out. While it’s the obvious correct answer from the point of view of a modern audience, it shouldn’t be so obvious in the film itself.
Oddly enough, these mistakes make the film even more resonant and powerful. women talk could easily have been too staged or didactic, focused more on outlining every detail of the Mennonite community, or used cheap theatrics to spice up the drama. Polley doesn’t do either; Instead, she shows empathy and compassion for these women who are faced with an impossible choice.
These characters come alive for us through the power of Polley’s words and the cast’s excellent actors. “Tell the truth to power” is a phrase that’s a bit worn and overused at the moment, but in women talkwhen these women tell the truth about their situation, they gain the strength to gather, debate, and most radically discuss Select. It’s a powerful film to watch, and one that’s all the more resonant and needed in a post-Roe 2023.
women talk runs in cinemas nationwide.
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