Pages Navigation Menu

"No matter where you go, there you are."


Women Talking – There Has Never Been a Better Moment For This Story

Courtesy of TIFF

Sarah Polley’s new film, Women Talking is her first narrative feature in eleven years. Before her lauded documentary Stories We Tell (2012), came Take This Waltz  a film yours truly called ‘Indie filmmaking at its finest’. Apart from making two Sarah’s feel old, I bring this up to show that the seeds were planted long ago that the actor turned writer/director had a rare talent, because Polley is now in the big leagues. Women Talking cements her status as a phenomenal filmmaker with the ability to translate the perfection of the human spirit to film. Where Take This Waltz lightly rubbed at the surface of marital discord, leaving viewers a little raw, Women Talking flays the flesh from its opening scene.

This film will make you cry. This film will make you angry. And somehow, this film will make you laugh.

Set in a remote Mennonite community in 2010, Women Talking captures the events of a single day and a night. The women of the community have discovered that the sexual abuse they endured for their entire lives is not the result of hallucinations, nor the devil’s work, but comes directly at the hands of male community members. The women cannot read or write, but they know that a reckoning has come. While the men are away, the women secretly meet in a hayloft to discuss what to do next – as a collective. Do they stay, leave or carry on, pretending that this isn’t happening? Every member has their say, from matriarch Scarface, Greta and Agata (Frances McDormand, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy), to mothers Salome and Mariche (Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley) and their teen daughters Mejal and Autje (Michelle McLeod, Kate Hallet), and not every woman feels the same way about their situation. Because whatever decision the women take has serious ramifications. August (Ben Whishaw), who has suffered at the hands of the community for different reasons, is allowed to record the meeting in a notebook. He’s also there to support Ona (Rooney Mara), pregnant with her rapist’s baby. As the shadows lengthen, the women struggle to find consensus and the tension mounts.

Ostensibly a talky movie, Polley creates dynamic interchanges between characters. Sometimes this comes in the form of speeches, sometimes sheer physicality. Emotions outpour from women processing mental and corporeal trauma. They stride, shout, push, feelings threatening to spill out into further violence. This pent-up fury is palpable, as is a terrifying fear of the unknown. The women realise that their entire livelihood is predicated on a lack of access to education. Then suddenly the film will change tack, moving to silliness and laughter, with Autje and Mejal gadding about having miraculously not lost their sense of wonder. Polley always centres her camera and the story on the women’s experience. There is blood and tissue, blackening bruised faces and limbs that won’t heal to match the inner turmoil. The film sustains interest by letting each character bring a different experience and perspective, while never being defined by that point of view. Every person leaps off the screen, a result of Polley’s understanding of what actors need, drawing from Miriam Toews’ book (the film’s source material).

Tonally, the palette is muted, the colour washed from the screen as it drains from the actresses’ faces. This allows the performances to fill in the vibrancy. There’s little better than Foy and Buckley duking it out, Salome and Mariche having undergone unimaginable terror yet both able to reclaim their agency, or Ivey and McCarthy having to reckon with an entire change in worldview. Women Talking has been carefully crafted to mete out its pleasurable moments when required. The events of the film could easily manifest as torture porn or hysteria, or even swing the other way and feel cold. The story always charts a true course, as a gripping study of how women survive.

There’s a lump in my throat as I write, moved by Polley’s ability to make a movie that is a roadmap for claiming power. It’s not only great cinema, but it’s also a public service.  Some will do nothing about Women Talking. Some will leave. But many will stay and watch this movie. Stay and fight.

Women Talking is getting a limited release in the US on 23rd December before expanding to more markets on 6th January. The movie comes out in the UK on 10th February 2023.

Previous PostNext Post


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.