Sarah Polley’s ‘Women Talking’: “An act of wild female imagination” ★★★★☆

4 mins read

TW: Contains references to sexual assault and rape

Inspired by real events at Manitoba Colony, a remote and isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia, Women Talking is based on the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews.

It depicts the women of a religious colony debating and conversing about what to do when they discover their men have been sexually assaulting and raping them in their sleep. Simple and succinct, the film is focused only on the conversation and does not spend much time in other settings. The emotions are there from the very beginning and leave the audience in tears, but still hopeful for the future.

It is not say that there is no character development; in fact, there is plenty. With stand-out performances from Claire Foy (The Crown) and Jessie Buckley, the emotional journey these women go on plays with your heartstrings from the very start.

A mother’s love and a women’s rage, Women Talking places women at the very forefront of their own discussion in a way that they may never have had the chance to do before.

‘Without language, there was a gaping silence and in that silence was the real horror.’

Women Talking contextualises the entire debate surrounding the #MeToo movement as well as larger discussions within feminism, in one compelling exchange. The womenfolk wrestle with the life and the faith they thought they knew while reconciling their horror at what they know has happened to them all.

The three choices (stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave) are ones that feel all too familiar to those that have survived abuse at the hands of those they love. Some of them feel so violated that they want revenge whereas some believe it should just be accepted as it is the norm for those of their faith to forgive.

The women are made of several generations of the same families and the inner and outer conflict each family go through often feel like their way of healing the trauma suffered and the generational trauma passed down.

‘Forgiveness is sometimes confused with permission.’

The very real fear these women feel about leaving is in juxtaposition with the very real fear they have for themselves and their children. Ben Whishaw (Q in Daniel Craig’s James Bond) plays August, the schoolteacher for the boys within the colony. He plays an integral part with the women’s discussion while reconciling with the unpleasant notions that arise with his role within the colony.

Polley begs the audience to ask questions about their understanding of the women’s rights movement and whether it has gone as far as it needs to do. They are left in silence and given a chance to reflect on what they just watched, realising that the reality of this religious colony is not so far removed from society today.

Women Talking is currently on a limited release in selected cinemas and is available to watch at Macrobert Arts Centre till March 2.

Featured Image Credit: Women Talking / United Artists Releasing

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3rd year English and Journalism student and secretary of Brig Newspaper

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