The theatre at TIFF 22 was silent outside of applause when the credits rolled for Women Talking, Sarah Polley’s first film in a decade. The room felt tense, but hopeful, which is the best outcome you can ask for with this kind of conversation, and Women Talking is quite the conversation.
The story surrounds a Mennonite colony facing a crisis. The women have been drugged and raped repeatedly by men in the colony, and after catching one, the abusers were sent to jail. The men of the colony leave to post bail, giving the women two days to “forgive them”. While gone, the women of the colony each vote to leave, stay and fight, or do nothing. With a tie between staying and going, a small group is appointed to make the choice for everyone, and the talking begins.
“Women Talking is obviously an important conversation. Going into the film, I already knew it would be a difficult watch.”
Women Talking is obviously an important conversation. Going into the film, I already knew it would be a difficult watch. Abuse is never an easy issue to tackle as an artist, and it’s never easy to watch as a viewer. Polley managed to find a balance between light and dark, between good and evil, between fear and hope. Every horrifying truth uncovered in the film has a purpose beyond shock and pain.
The constant conversation surrounding women’s rights in 2022 is nowhere close to where it needs to be. Bringing Women Talking to the screen this year is more fitting than ever, and though it is an extreme example, women with no power, no voice and no rights over their own bodies are all around us. The film even demonstrates how easily it can be happening in your own backyard, and this remains true whether it was in 1940, 2010 or 2022.
“Beyond tackling issues that are consistently a problem, the voices behind these women resonated with me, and the cast brought that to life.”
Watching Women Talking as a woman was hard. Watching it as a mother was harder. When it comes to taking care of ourselves, people are known to drop the ball, especially moms. But a mother protecting her children? Women will go to the ends of the earth to keep them safe. Salome is the best example of this in the film, and Claire Foy struck and brought nothing but power to her role.
Unfortunately, sometimes abuse spreads, scars and doesn’t give you choices. This side of the coin was shown true by the character Mariche. Jessie Buckey brought the same power, all the women did. But this time a fear, sadness, toughness and brokenness all at the same time. The women in this cast were incredible all around, and had a chemistry that I can only assume this tough subject matter helped them build.
“Sarah Polley pulled no punches with Women Talking, letting every ounce of pain be seen and heard.”
Some of the elders in the colony really shine as well. Sheila McCarthy plays Greta, and Judith Ivey plays Agata. These women lead the others, and watching them come to terms with what has been happening to their daughters and granddaughters, feeling guilt, fear and shame is harrowing. Ivey and McCarthy make the Women Talking family whole. The cast brings every one of the problems they face to light in ways that I don’t think just any actor could. Each woman, even the children, mastered these roles. Making the audience feel what they feel is no small feat.
Women Talking hit every single note for me. Beyond tackling issues that are consistently a problem, the voices behind these women resonated with me, and the cast brought that to life. Sarah Polley pulled no punches with Women Talking, letting every ounce of pain be seen and heard. We will be hearing about Women Talking a lot, especially around Oscar season.
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