Women Talking

Women Talking
Women Talking
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Sarah Polley, an actor-turned-director who had not made a film for more than ten years, has returned with this claustrophobic, searing and deep drama. In fact, she has only done a few films as both actress and director such as the movingly sweet Take This Waltz (2011) and her non-fictional semi-autobiography Stories We Tell (2012), which are all eloquent of her discerning eye as a director. The ease through which Women Talking flows is an off-shoot of those same qualities.

During the nearly two hour long film, Polley confines most of it to the barn’s rafters and steers her exceptionally strong cast across what feels like an unrelenting confrontation between faith and fury. Originally based on the bestselling novel by Miriam Toews, adapted by Polley herself – that was in turn inspired by true to life happenings in the late 2000s of Mennonite women systematically administered with drugs then raped within their community- there is no dialogue that isn’t heavy with meaning. More than anything else it also serves as a brilliant exploration regarding verbal expression where women are concerned as they find out that they can say things to another woman when they never could have before. In some moments you can almost see characters holding words in their mouths before speaking them; at other times words cannot be kept from tumbling out.

Together, each woman’s experience forms the breadth of trauma being experienced among them. Ona who is unmarried played by Rooney Mara is pregnant after having been attacked. Jessie Buckley’s character Mariche has been subjected to violence within her marriage whereas in one early scene Claire Foy’s Salome swings a metal hook at these men whom she learned had sexually assaulted her four year old daughter. Polley does not show any of the rape acts themselves but shows only its aftermath thereby proving beyond any doubt that its weight can be seen and felt without showing the violence behind it. The scenes are scored by rich but jarring percussion, showing blood which contrasts starkly against otherwise muted palette of film; aerial shots of limbs moving in strange ways on beds, and the look of horror that suddenly appears on their faces and bodies.

For a while, these women have been made to believe that their attackers are either Satanic apparitions or figments of their imagination. The movie picks up at this point when they all come to know about it together. While the men are kept off-site, there is voting among the women: forgive them, leave for good or remain and fight back; then from all angles the remaining choices get examined by the movie.

And examine it does. Every line said by any character in Women Talking is loaded with meaning as well as being either a statement or question aimed at shifting attention elsewhere. Even moments of comedy feel like they have been armed; these bites punctuate between gloominess and darkness thereby proving that women haven’t been defeated yet. Its overall impact feels like it’s about to overwhelm itself totally but its never suffocated completely because Polley obviously leaves no stone unturned and certainly an exceptional ensemble cast who collectively hit no false notes (the film includes varied talents).

Buckley, who has made a career out of her wild screen presence, feels that energy too, but she portrays herself as a woman whose spirit has been broken by physical abuses and oppression into what appears to be an inability to assert herself. Foy brings uncontrollable anger to her role, while Rooney’s Ona is oddly quiet in comparison. The women are at odds, talking and arguing with one another; once in awhile they go mute upon the adjurations from mothers advising them “chill”. Perhaps this suggests limitations that still inhibit these women’s lives, yet diminishes some of the most exciting moments.

However, the film remains a testament to Polley’s talents in catching this carefully poised balance for the most part and propels her towards an entirely new phase of her career as a filmmaker. It is rare curio that wrestles hope out of these cruel and misogynistic acts which transcend generations. Sometimes it will hit you like a blow as any important film should do.

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