"Everyone in the film is almost equally terrific"

Oscar Nominated Best Film Deserves Its High Praise

(012623) Women Talking is a potent and emotionally charged drama about a horrific sexual abuse case in a religious community. The film has been highly touted and it was on many critic’s top 10 lists plus it's already won many awards from critic’s groups. Despite fierce competition (from both higher grossing and other prestige films) the film made the Best Picture nomination list for this year's Oscars, as well as a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, which it richly deserves.

The film is one of the three recent highly touted "Me Too" themed movies about the discrimination and abuse of women. The others were the underrated and underperforming She Said (about the Weinstein harassment case) and the riveting Tar (about a partially sympathetic conductor who abuses her female students.) Although Women Talking is very well acted and has first rate writing, it impressed me slightly less than the other films. Perhaps it is because the other two films have subject matter that is more inherently cinematic and their stories lend themselves more to being made into films .

Women Talking is written and directed by former actress Sarah Polley who you may remember from such late 90s/ early 2000s films as the Ice Storm, Exotica, Splice, Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Lately she has spent most of her time behind the camera directing several well received reality-based films such as Away from Her, Take this Waltz, and Story to Tell. So far this is her most impressive and significant film.

Normally a movie so filled with such high-quality performances would be a shoe in for the best female acting categories in any award show, but this has been an unusually good year for performances by women, with Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Angela Bassett, Audrey Plaza and most of the cast of The Woman King also doing memorable acting turns. Also, it is virtually impossible to single out one performance from the great ensemble cast which might work to their detriment. Everyone in the film is almost equally terrific.

The film’s distinguished almost all female cast includes Rooney (
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo ) Mara, Claire (Queen Elizabeth from The Crown) Foy, Jessie (The Lost Daughter) Buckley, Judith (What the Dead Man Heard) Ivey, Ben (Bright Star) Whishaw, and Frances (Fargo) McDormand.

Women Talking is based on a shocking true story from 2011, although the primitive setting seems like could be a hundred years ago. Seven men in a remote Bolivian Mennonite community, were accused of repeatedly brutalizing and raping over 100 women and girls (in some cases their wives or sisters) at night. They drugged the women (sometimes with cow anesthetic) and the men were eventually caught and sent to jail. But the male elders in the village bailed the rapists out and demanded the women forgive them and accept them back in the community. The accused claimed the devil made them do it, so the very devout women were trapped between a rock and a hard place. They had to decide to either refuse to forgive them and risk going to hell for defying the elders or stay and forgive them at the risk of possibly being raped again.

The film plays out like a very smart one room drama and it is largely composed of conversations in a barn between the women with the male teacher, August serving as recorder because most of the women are illiterate. The women passionately discuss whether they should fight back stay or flee. The situation is complicated further because one of the women, Ona is pregnant with her rapist’s child, and if she stays the town authorities plan to take the child away and give it to a married couple. There is a scene that is certain to please the pro-life crowd, when one of the other women questions how she could consider raising the son of her rapist, she explains “I already love this child more than anything,”

Ona (Rooney Mara), one of the most articulate characters, argues that they should leave and start their own colony while Salome (Claire Foy) and Mejal (Michelle McLeod) want to fight back and try to physically overcome the men. All of the women argue passionately for their viewpoints and their courage to go on despite the terrible odds may be especially empowering to controlled women, and some men. The talks are in the tradition of past great speeches like the famous “ain’t I a woman,” one by Sojourner Truth which demanded dignity for all females.

Women Talking also includes a deeply moving love story. August, the teacher/note taker loves the pregnant Oona from afar. August is eager to marry Ona and raise the child as his own and he seems like he could end up being the best father in the village. But since she was disgraced publicly, Oona argues that he deserves far better than her. Also she probably believes his vocation to help socialize and provide a positive male role model for the younger males so they won’t grow up to be monsters like their fathers is more important than the potential couple’s happiness. At one point Ona ponders, “Why does love - the absence of love, the end of love, the need for love - result in so much violence?”

The film ends up being hopeful despite the bleak situation it depicts and its dark subject matter. But here is a stern warning about the film . It contains scenes of domestic abuse, pedophilia, incest and rape (although some of it is only suggested), so it is far from ideal family viewing. But thoughtful and patient adults who appreciate socially conscious cinema will find much to admire in it.

Directed by:    Sarah Polley
Written by:    Screenplay by Sarah Polley & Miriam Toews.
 Based on the novel of the same name by Miriam
Starring:    Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckely
Released:    12/23/22 (USA)
Length:    104 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for sequences of sexual assault,
 mature thematic content, strong violence and
Available On:    At press time the film was playing at local theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

WOMEN TALKING © 2023 Here/Say Productions
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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