Director Sarah Polley
Starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley
Scott’s Review #1,341
Reviewed February 7, 2023
Women Talking (2022) is a quiet film faithful to its title because it is about a group of women, well, talking. But, instead of idle gossip, these women have something powerful to say. They debate and discuss their fates throughout the film’s one-hour and forty-four-minute running time.
It is written and directed by Sarah Polley, a former actress, and adapted from the recent 2018 novel of the same name written by Miriam Toews.
Shockingly, the film is inspired by actual events that took place in the ultraconservative Manitoba colony in Bolivia.
For years, the women of a rural colony have been drugged and raped nightly by demons punishing them for their sins. They have until recently acquiesced. But when the women discover that these “demons” are the men of their community, they boldly decide to take a vote to determine what action to take.
The year is 2010 but the women’s dress makes it seem like it’s the 1800s. I wasn’t sure of the year going in save for a 1960s pop tune bursting from the speakers of a pushup truck so the viewer can easily be misled or unclear.
A male rapist is caught and imprisoned which leads the men to conveniently be out of town while the women have two days to make a decision. They will either stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.
One male remains with the females, the kind teacher, August, played by Ben Whishaw. There also exists a transgender man who has been raped by men and no longer speaks to adults.
While the film is a slow one it has something intelligent and interesting to offer. Despite the women being repressed and abused a feminist overtone is readily apparent which uplifts the dire tone.
Hollywood heavyweights like Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt executive produced and produced respectively, so Women Talking has big-time backing, deservedly so.
Comparisons to a female version of the classic play Twelve Angry Men cannot go unnoticed by the apt viewer. The women are divided and not in agreement or harmony…..at first. The lone juror would be most similar to Ona (Rooney Mara), a sensible woman who reasons and weighs the pros and cons.
McDormand also appears in a small role as the grizzled and beaten down ‘Scarface’ Janz who has accepted her lot in life.
Mara, Claire Foy, and Jessie Buckley are the standouts, the latter two characters fueled with anger at the revelations and mistrust of the men.
Liberties must be taken. It’s mentioned that the women are not taught to read or write but the characters are wise, cagey, and well-spoken. The ambiguity of what’s to become of the women slightly let me down. Sure, a decision has been reached but now what?
Polley has directed a gem and garnered considerable notice for her project and the kudos can’t come loudly enough. I thought it wise that besides August, the male characters are either not seen or seen only from a long distance. Some are blurred entirely.
This adds to the mystique and grotesqueness of their actions.
A true ensemble picture that could easily be shaped into a stage play, Women Talking (2022) led by Polley and backers, produces an effective narrative.
The point is well-intentioned and well-received that repression and victimization are alive and well.
Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (won)
Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best Feature, Best Director-Sarah Polley, Best Screenplay, Robert Altman Award (won)