Based on the novel by Miriam Toews, Women Talking is the story of a group of women living in an isolated religious colony as they deal with a series of sexual assaults committed by the men in their community towards them as well as how to confront this incident. Written for the screen and directed by Sarah Polley, the film is based on real-life incidents at the Manitoba Colony at a Mennonite community in Bolivia where women deal with not just being raped but also being powerless in a world isolated from modern-day society. Starring Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand. Women Talking is a haunting and gripping film from Sarah Polley.
Set in a remote Mennonite colony in 2010, the film revolves the aftermath of an incident involving an attempted rape where one of the women attacked her attacker as a bunch of them discuss about what to do as many of the men have left the colony to bail out the attacker. It is a film that explores women as they talk about what had happened but also what they’ve experienced as they discuss what to do next in this remote community as well as the idea of whether things will change after what had happened. Sarah Polley’s screenplay is largely straightforward in its narrative though it is told by a teenage girl in Autje (Kate Hallett) to an unseen character where it mainly revolves around this meeting in a barn where a group of women plus a couple of teenage girls and a male schoolteacher. They all discuss about what to do after this violent incident as all of the women took a vote, despite being illiterate, on what to do as the choices were to do nothing and beg for forgiveness, stay and fight, or to leave the colony. The latter two choices led to a tie with some of the women discussing whether to stay and fight or to leave the colony into the unknown.
Throughout the course of the film, the women talk about their options as one of the elders known as Scarface Janz (Frances McDormand) who voted to do nothing believes that if they resist. They will bring more trouble and would be judged in the afterlife as she leaves the meeting early with her daughter and granddaughter who are both resistant of doing something. Salome (Claire Foy) is the one who had assaulted an attacker as she wants to fight after what had happened while her sister Ona (Rooney Mara) was raped and is currently pregnant is unsure though she has suggestions on what to do if they do stay and fight. The schoolteacher August (Ben Whishaw) records the meeting on paper as two of the elder women in Greta (Sheila McCarthy) and Ona/Salome’s mother Agata (Judith Ivey) take part in the meeting along with Mejal (Michelle McLeod), Greta’s granddaughter Autje (Kate Hallett), another teenager in Neitje (Liv McNeil), and Greta’s daughter/Autje’s mother Mariche (Jessie Buckley) are also in the meeting with Mariche is also unsure due to its possible outcome. Even as they receive news that Mariche’s husband is returning to get more bail money as the women do whatever to reach a decision on their fate.
Polley’s direction is definitely mesmerizing in not just its overall presentation but also the intimacy it has as it is shot on location near Toronto as the location itself with its harvest fields, barns, and houses in this farmland is a character in the film. Polley uses a lot of wide shots for the locations what include scenes of children playing in the fields and crops as well as Greta’s own stories about her own horses and the small amount of freedom she has driving her buggy. Much of Polley’s direction is set inside the second floor of this barn where the women talk about what to do with August moderating the whole thing as he is the only person that knows what the world outside of the colony is like despite the fact that his family had been excommunicated. Polley’s usage of close-ups and medium shots are key to the film as it does feature a few humorous moments while a lot of it is straightforward in its drama with arguments and such along with anecdotes on the idea of forgiveness.
Blood is a recurring image throughout the film as the first show is a shot from above of Ona waking up with blood and bruises around her crotch along with brief flashbacks of women waking up in bed with blood on the bed. There is also a shot from bird’s eye point of view in the barn that plays into the meeting as well as these intense discussions about what to do as well as making the ultimate decision after learning that Mariche’s husband is returning later in the night. The film’s third act is about this decision with many of the women aware of the consequences as well as the risks and sacrifices they’re taking as it also play into August’s own sacrifices as he is the only man that listened to the women as it relates to the young men and boys who are expected to carry on the ideals of their fathers in this remote community where August has to teach guide them to realize there’s more out there. Overall, Polley crafts a chilling yet intoxicating film about a group of women discussing the aftermath of a sexual assault incident in a Mennonite colony.
Cinematographer Luc Montpellier does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its low-key naturalistic lighting along with a bit of desaturation in some of its exterior/interior daytime scenes along with low-key natural lighting for some of the scenes at night. Editors Christopher Donaldson and Roslyn Kalloo do excellent work with the editing as it features a few montages that play into the horror that these women endure while also using some straightforward cutting to capture the rhythm of the conversations. Production designer Peter Cosco, with set decorator Friday Myers and art director Andrea Kristof, does fantastic work with the look of the barn where the women have their meeting as well as some of the interiors of the homes they live in. Costume designer Quita Alfred does amazing work with the dresses that the women wear as well as the overalls that the men and boys wear as it play into the look of the colony as well as the details into the culture of the Mennonite.
Key hairstylist Antoinette Julien and makeup artist Ashley Rocha do terrific work with the makeup from the scar on Janz’s face as well as some of the bruises that the women have on their bodies. Visual effects supervisor Kevin Chandoo does nice work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects in bits of set dressing for some of the wider shots to showcase the world outside of the colony. Sound editors David McCallum and Jane Tattersall, along with sound designer Siamak Omrani, do superb work with the sound in the way some of the natural sounds appear on location as well as things sound from afar. The film’s music by Hildur Guonadottir is incredible for its mixture of orchestral textures, dissonant percussive arrangements, and folky instrumentation as it plays into the drama as well as a few of the film’s suspenseful moments while music supervisor Mandy Mamlet cultivates a soundtrack that features a few traditional hymns and the Monkees’ Daydream Believer that is played when the census man visits the farm for a census count.
The casting by John Buchan and Jason Knight is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Eli Ham as Mariche’s abusive husband Klaas, Nathaniel McParland as Salome’s son Aaron, Emily Mitchell as Salome’s sickly daughter Miep, Kira Guloien as Janz’s daughter Anna, Shayla Brown as Janz’s granddaughter Helena, and August Winter as a mute transgender boy in Melvin who had been raped as he rarely speaks except to the other children in the colony. Kate Hallett and Liv McNeil are fantastic in their respective roles as the teenage girls Autje and Neitje who both take part in the meeting as they were the ones to witness one of the attackers that Salome would go after with the former being Mariche’s daughter who wants to leave the colony. Michelle McLeod is superb as Mejal as a young woman who wants to stay and fight as she feels like little is going to change in doing nothing while is also unsure about leaving.
Frances McDormand is excellent in her brief role as Scarface Janz as an elder in the colony who prefers to do nothing in the hope that she and the other women can be forgiven in the hopes they will reach the Kingdom of Heaven. Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy are brilliant in their respective roles as the elders in Salome and Ona’s mother Agata and Mariche’s mother Greta as two women who have seen a lot and both express their own concerns but also realize that nothing is going to change if they don’t do anything about it. Ben Whishaw is amazing as August as one of the few men who stayed behind as many of them left to bail out the attacker as he observes and records the minutes of the meeting while also providing his own opinions as an outsider of sorts as he is also a schoolteacher for the colony who believes he can guide the young boys into doing something other than harming women.
Claire Foy is incredible as Salome as Ona’s older sister who had attacked the man that is in jail as she wants to stay and fight as she is a woman filled with rage over what happened while also willing to listen to reason as she is concerned for the well-being of her children. Jessie Buckley is phenomenal as Mariche as a woman who had endured a lot of abuse as she is hoping that forgiveness will defuse the situation while also revealing the lack of choices she has as a wife who is married to a man who treats her and her children terribly. Finally, there’s Rooney Mara in a sensational performance as Salome’s younger sister Ona as woman who is pregnant from a rape as she wants to leave the colony but also leave the door open for forgiveness with some ideas for change.
Women Talking is an outstanding film from Sarah Polley. Featuring a tremendous ensemble cast, Hildur Guonadottir’s eerie music score, evocative visuals, and its exploration of sexual assault and women trying to deal with the aftermath in a remote religious colony. It is a film that doesn’t just explore women dealing with being sexually assaulted in this remote colony but also having to confront that these ideals enforced by men has done nothing to keep themselves or their children safe. In the end, Women Talking is a magnificent film from Sarah Polley.
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I'm so glad you liked this! Really happy that Sarah Polley won the Oscar for this. Easily one of the best screenplays from last year.
@Brittani-I'm fucking glad it was available on Amazon Prime as I just watched it and man, I wanted to beat the shit out of all of these men for what they did to women. I'm more angry after learning what happened to Jena Malone during the production of one of The Hunger Games movies. I wanna find the motherfucker who did this to her and give him the beating of a lifetime.
Yep, yep, yep. So good. Happy for Polley's win. I wish it had gotten a little more recognition.
@keith71_98-Agreed. A nomination for Best Director would've been nice.
Glad you finally saw this one!! I agree with you this is such a mesmerizing film and despite having no 'action' the dialog was riveting to me. Glad Sarah Polley won for Best Adapted screenplay, but she should've also been nominated in the directing category!
@ruth-I'm glad I watched this as I was fucking floored by this film as it also made me angry over the actions of men and what they could get away with in a remote community like this. Makes me ashamed of being a man sometimes.
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