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Film Review: Women Talking (2022)

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★

Available on Prime Video | Runtime: 1 hr 44 mins


Sarah Polley takes a sensitive and thought-provoking approach to adapting Miriam Toews' award-winning novel Women Talking for the big screen. Set in an isolated religious colony, this film gives a voice to the women who have long suffered in silence. And while it deals with weighty subject matter, it falls short at presenting a balanced view that such weighty subjects warrant.

We open on a hayloft, where a group of women have gathered to decide their fate after a sinister secret is revealed. For years, the women in their community have been drugged and attacked in their sleep by the colony's men. But the truth has finally come to light, throwing the future into question. Do they stay and fight, leave, or do nothing at all? The women have two days to decide before the men return from bail.

At the center of this are three captivating characters. First is Ona (Rooney Mara), a thoughtful young mother struggling to make sense of the heinous acts. Miriam (Ben Whishaw) acts as the women's translator, calm and rational. And then there's the superb Frances McDormand as Scarface, the brash matriarch whose rage could tear the whole community apart. The script lets these personalities breathe while tackling themes of autonomy, justice, and forgiveness.

Filmed on location in Manitoba, the remote setting becomes a character of its own. Cinematographer Luc Montpellier lenses sweeping prairie landscapes and claustrophobic barn interiors with equal skill. Quieter moments are heightened through his lens, like a mother braiding her daughter's hair by candlelight. It's a visual embodiment of the grace these women strive to maintain despite their oppressive surroundings.

Where the film falls short at is explaining why are the men doing these atrocious things to the women? The only explanation that we seem to get is because they are men. There is little evidence, backstory or subtext that would explain what motivates these men. Is it the power of keeping these women captive? Is it the religion that is flawed and justifies the rape and violence towards the women? Whatever it is, it is not explained or allowed to be explained in the film. For viewers that have not read the book the film is based on it can be off-putting. It’s like watching a trial with the defendant absent.

Overall, Women Talking handles its sensitive narrative with care. The film aims to understand its characters, not judge them. Like a therapy circle, it opens an empathetic dialogue around trauma and moral duty. It’s just a shame that the opportunity of great casting and strong source material is missed by focussing on the message that ultimately the film wants to deliver.

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