Not to be snarky or too clever, but is there a more accurately titled movie this year than WOMEN TALKING? I mean, that’s literally the content of the movie. But it is about much more than a bunch of women talking. It is about abuse and fighting back and taking fate and destiny into your own hands.
The movie is set in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. We’re not exactly sure where, but it appears to be sometime around the turn of a decade since at one point a census taker drives by the community. (A little Wikipedia research says it happens in 2010. Ok, sounds good. There is a dark secret in this community. The women are tranquilized and abused by a circle of men. After years of this, someone finally reports it to the authorities and the men are arrested. But that is not the end for these women. With the men either in prison or away dealing with the trial the women feel they need to make a decision—stay and run the risk of continued abuse or leave for the unknown, but the promise of safety.
That is the dramatic tension of the film. Most of the women gather in a hayloft to talk about the options. About whether they should stay or go. That argument is played out in a series of discussions. The various arguments are captivating mostly because of several stellar performances. Claire Foy’s Salome wants revenge in the form staying and fighting or killing the men. Rooney Mara’s Ona wants to stay and change the community’s rules so this kind of thing won’t happen again. Jessie Buckley’s Mariche believes forgiveness is the only path forward. The discussions are led by two other older women, Sheila McCarthy’s Greta and Judith Ivey’s Agata. While no one is thrilled with the idea of leaving Greta and Agata The path to their final decision is filled with questions and heartfelt arguments about their faith and what it really means for the women as they make their decision.
Buckley, Mara, Foy and McCarthy give standout performances. Also, Ben Wishaw is very good as August, the only man allowed into the hayloft because he’s the only one who can write and document their decision.
Director Sarah Polley’s script from a novel by Miriam Toews is fantastic. It reveals the dramatic tension in a way that draws you in. This could have been a snooze of a talk fest, but the choices Polley makes keep things interesting. I was less in love with her direction. I loved Polley’s documentary STORIES WE TELL. I appreciated the artistry of this movie. The tone and color palette fits the story being told here. But it also left me a bit flat. I can’t put my finger on it. I suppose the Mennonite-ness of the movie demanded the choices Polley made. It’s not bad by any measure, it’s just not for me.
The Best Picture and Adaped Screenplay nominations are well-deserved. This is kind of a Mennonite Me Too movie. It gives women the power without being preachy or clubbing you over the head with its message. Polley is a supremely skilled filmmaker. I continue to look forward to whatever she will do in the future.