When Frances McDormand won her Oscar for Three Billboards way back in 2018, she made her speech a call to arms; she wanted films made by women, relevant to an audience of women, and not the usual Hollywood tokenism. Many projects, some long held, others freshly developed, sprang forth from the moment; the 2023 list of awards hopefuls now includes such female-driven projects as She Said and The Woman King, but arguably the most incendiary is Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, which features McDormand and a top notch cast, but also doubles down on the notions behind the ongoing fight for women’s rights in a dynamic and challenging way.
Based on a novel by Miriam Toews, Women Talking takes inspiration from a real life event in Bolivia, in which a group of Mennonite women discovered that the men of their community have been drugging and raping them using tranquilisers. In this fictional version, the wronged women plot an escape which would involve finally separating themselves from a male-dominated community, a schism that will inevitably separate family members, and break up young families. Ona (Rooney Mara) is pregnant, and wants to stay and fight the women’s case, while others, including Salome (Claire Foy) are willing to respond by killing the men responsible, while Maraiche (Jesse Buckley) remains to be persuaded. The route forward isn’t clear; the diligent August (Ben Wishaw) takes notes as the women try to talk things out.
JJ Abrams recently made an enthusiastic endorsement of Polley’s striking, unequivocal film on social media, prompting Polley to cheekily suggest that maybe audiences who like Star Wars will like this. Sadly, that’s unlikely to be the way the box-office pans out, but while Women Talking may never be a mainstream hit in the way that male-driven fantasies are, it’s an urgent game-changer in terms of portraying a direct, inimitable philosophy behind women removing themselves from abuse. Given that male on female violence is so prevalent in today’s society that it’s rarely even remarked on, never mind acted upon, Polley’s film is timely in pointing out an unpleasant truth that we generally choose to ignore; that women generally get a bad deal from the men in their lives. What to do about this is what we need to talk about…
Immaculately acted and well conceived, Women Talking is a bracingly radical film that doubles down on the notion of how important processes of conversation and communication are in terms of changing how we think. It’s a serious, prescient film that everyone should see, building up to a cathartic scene of unimaginable sacrifice that is hard to accept. Polley is someone I’ve followed with interest since interviewing her for 2006’s Away from Her, with 2012’s semi-autobiographical and very personal Stories We Tell probably her best to date. A child actor, Polley talked about how she now feels that no child is capable of making the decision to have an acting career at the age she did; it’s a viewpoint Polley understood was not practical, but throws a specific light on this film’s conclusion. Women Talking is not a film about survival, or resilience, but instead dares to ask the question; given where we are, what happens next? And the hard-won answers that Polley’s film provides make it a genuinely radical, revolutionary text for anyone who cares about the state of humanity moving forward…
Women Talking is coming to cinemas in the United Kingdom on 10 February 2023. Thanks to Universal Pictures UK for advance access.
Weight stuff. Generally, i try to skip the reviews for a film I’m planning to see. This is halfway between putting me off and making me depserately want to go. There’s a ton of religious docus which are nothing but women being abused.
No scenes of abuse in this. It’s is all, as the title suggests, Women Talking. Unfortunately unlikely to run for long…
One of the features of Oscar noms these days is that they don;t seem to give movies much extra biz.
None whatsoever. Theee was an SNL sketch last weekend about how film buffs no longer know or care about new releases. I’ll post it soonish…
I read your review this morning but it’s taken me a while to get round to commenting. Between patients I’ve been looking up the links and reading about the actual happening as well as the authors interviews and the wiki synopsis of the book she wrote that the movie is taken from. I think I will not watch this, but have sent for the book instead. Movies about the abuse of women always make me end up hating men for a few days after. Don’t want to perforate any chaps eardrum 🙂 It’s funny (not funny haha) how fundamental extremist religions result in the subjugation and abuse of women, you have to wonder WTF goes on in blokes heads.
I appreciate the considered response, and I can fully imagine why this topic might make you feel angry. Have been watching a netflix show about religious indoctrination and abuse of women that makes a similar point. There are no acts of violence on screen in this film, and I’d suggest you take a look if and when you felt ready. My own take is that the Bolivia event, while striking in itself, if something different from the fictional version depicted here, but both should be talked about and discussed in their own right. As a man, I’m all too aware of what goes on in men’s heads. Religious men who use their power to abuse women. Non-religious men who use their power to abuse women. It’s a trope that repeated over and over again in history, and while disguised a little due to MeToo, it’s very much with us today. Even talking about this is taboo, and its a subject that causes great upset, but for varying reasons. Anyway, as long as no ears were harmed, I commend your restraint!
I don’t know that I believe anything will ever change, it’s been going on since forever.
Is unfortunately the correct answer.
A friend was telling me about this (she quite disliked it, so I’m intriuged by your positive review as she watches lots of serious films) but I had it confused with She Said. The first few minutes of our conversation were very “who’s on first?” and culminated with me incredulously asking “Harvey Weinstein assaulted Mennonites?!”
I’m sure this will split many people. It’s not a film about moving on and finding what we have in common. It’s a film about acting on experience. For many people, that message will not be acceptable. For me, whether you accept the thesis or not, it’s something which needs to be said. Get out to the flicks and see for yourself.
My favorite cross purposes review was for War of the Planet of the Apes. The review said ‘I watched this over someone’s shoulder on a plane. I thought it was Dunkirk until the monkeys showed up’
Few can match that kind of insight.
It sounds like a topic that deserves a documentary, not a fictionalization.
Or both. I’d not heard of the incident, but while I’d be keen to know more about what actually happened, I’m also keen to hear about what such an event might mean, which is where Polley goes.
Where Polley decides to go, you mean.
Yes, absolutely, what it might mean to her. I susprct the events are open to interpretation, and she can only give her own POV. But this film, like Polley, pulls no punches whatsoever….
If it’s a true story, then events are not open to interpretation; there is an objective truth to those events….which may or may not be served by fictionalization. In other words, I very much doubt the objectivity of a “feminist” director in present-day Hollywood.
Probably a fine movie, but I like my propaganda separate from my entertainment.
It’s arguable how true any film, from United 93 to Braveheart, can be considered to be based in a true story. But I’d rarely suggest a film as a way of presenting coke, hard facts. I think in this case the director is very much telling things as she sees it. Objective truth lies in another realm.
Nope. Too easy. I’m not going to make a coke joke.
Cold hard facts. No inferences to being on the beak required.
Long-time readers are aware of the fact that you have a lifetime supply of the nose candy squirreled away in your cottage.
That is a scurrilous allegation that contains no truth whatsoever. It would clash with the laudanum.
Is that a 7% solution?
110% 25 hours a day, eight days a week. Absinthe in a glass delivered to me every 15 mins. The usual.
That green hut thingy is really an opium den I bet!
With a swimming pool? Your theory falls apart!
You’re swimming in coke?
I don’t know where you are getting this from. It’s a normal library.
I didn’t see the library pics. Going to look at them now.
Grab a line on the way. Tall man and short man waiting for you.
Not really. Hard cover over it making a removable floor.
Does your library have a removable floor? Pics?
You know I don’t have a library!
What? Alex has gone to look at mine
There are no library pics. Just a lawn ornament he stole from a mini-golf course.
Make him a cuppa then.
Not wanting to get out of the pool.
I’ve seen your bookshelves. The ones with all Phil’s war books.
Yes but they’re his in his little war room. Mine are in a cupboard.
Anyway it’s a little hut, not too hard to make a hinged fold up one. Plus anyway there must be sides around the pool so they’d do at a push. Could sit dangling your feet in the water whilst puffing on the hooplah thingy.
We don’t have a hookah in our local library. That doesn’t sound like a library that you are visiting.
He’s not storing hay in there.
Sigh. I store the hay in bales. With a tarpaulin held in place by rope.
….and we are, after all, to give a lot more credence to a film that confirms our biases rather than challenges them, aren’t we…. 🙂
This thread has become too long and involved to answer these questions now. Plus Eddie is sitting in one of those wading pools you buy for your dogs or kids while doing lines of coke and smoking hay. Meaning he can’t respond anyway because he’s baked.
I will allow this idle, salacious speculation as to my living conditions.
I will certainly try to see this. I have been a big Sarah Polley fan so far and I was surprised to discover a Canadian feminist backlash re this film from Seventh Row. They have a podcast episode that you can access here: https://seventh-row.com/2023/01/11/e132-sarah-polley-women-talking/
I haven’t listened to it all yet and will wait until I’ve seen the film. The novel is Canadian but the rights were bought by Frances McDormand for her company and I think that part of the argument against it is that Polley’s adaptation pitches for Oscar recognition. Is it really in a 2.76:1 aspect ratio as IMDb suggests?
2.76 doesn’t compute with my experience, but I was seeing it on an awards platform, which isn’t always the same version seen in cinemas. I’m hearing all kind of reasons to pick holes in the film, but I’m not persuaded by the arguments against at all. My feeling is that people are uncomfortable with the powerful, some might argue strident philosophies espoused here, and looking for any reason to mark it down. I think Polley is saying some things here that are a step further than current sentiments; ie that women could and can potentially break away from men. That causes all kind of ripples in the stagnant pond of public opinion; will be keen to hear your opinion, but I found this shocking and eye-opening in equal measures. Polley gets that child actors won’t be replaced by robots because of her own experience, she laughed about this when I interviewed her, but that doesn’t mean her point has no meaning. Similarly, I doubt she wants women to completely seperate from men, or expects that to happen as a result of this film, but that doesn’t mean that the notion has no value, not least to make people look again at male-female relationships…
I don’t like Star Wars any more, so I’m guessing I won’t like this. But just in case, I’ll watch this right after that one where the woman has a car baby.
Titane? Yup, I’d forgotten that one, I’d keep that low on your list of priorities.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I think the issue you’re trying to spotlight is an important one, but since you and I have a very different view of what movies should “be” or should try to accomplish, it is very hard for me to talk seriously in the comments. Add in that our world views are quite different, and that makes it even harder.
I guess there is a specific issue about films like this. They will not appeal so much to those who dig fantasy stories. I’m not up for violence against women, and I’m more than happy to talk up a rare film that highlights that issue. Everything else is a matter of taste, I’m expressing my view rather than suggesting what anyone else should think. I can’t make up anyone’s mind for them, nor would I seek to. It’s a free country…
There are Mennonites in Bolivia? I’m confused about what’s going on here and haven’t followed what this movie is about. I just heard it was a MeToo movie. Is a Mennonite community being used as a stand-in for the condition women find themselves in, in 21st century America? That seems harsh.
First article that came up is here; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-48265703
The film doesn’t name names in terms of places, but you’d be right to think that a Mennonite community is being used as a point of comparison. That might be harsh, but it’s harsh out there for women who are losing ground rather than gaining it in terms of their rights just now.