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TIFF 2022 Review: Women Talking – “Sarah Polley hitting her stride as a filmmaker”

Women debate leaving behind the men in their Mennonite colony as they continue to suffer systemic sexual and physical abuse.

Mysterious marks on women’s bodies and unexpected pregnancies give way to the revelation that the men of a colony are raping their own women which causes the latter to commune and gather to discuss what course of action is best to follow: stay, stay and fight, or leave.  Intercut with the meeting are flashbacks showing the aftermath of the domestic violence.

Not meant to be negative comparison but as Quentin Tarantino was celebrated for the Reservoir Dogs which has criminals gathering together in a warehouse to figure out the traitor among them, Sarah Polly accomplishes the same feat with most of the debate unfolding inside of a barn.  It is quite open about this being a product of female imagination which establishes the story as an allegory rather than being historically specific.  As with Tarantino, there is no subtlety and the repartee is quick, furious and at times witty.  There is not a case of male bashing as cause and effect are discussed and the presence of a soulful Ben Whishaw shows that inflicting abuse is not innate to the gender but something that is taught.

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The debate drags on which becomes part of an inside joke and the humour helps to act as a release valve for the emotional tension.  The performances are believable but cannot quite escape the impression that the audience is watching a stage play in the making.  The road to freedom is framed in the background and becomes a potent motif.  The colour palette is desaturated to the point that it could pass as a black and white film with the occasional splash of red.  In the end, this adaptation marks Sarah Polley hitting her stride as a filmmaker and hopefully for the long run.

The 47th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8-18, 2022, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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