Actress turned filmmaker Sarah Polley follows up her films Take This Waltz and Stories We Tell with Women Talking, an emotional and intimate story of women who debate their next decision following a series of sexual assaults in their conservative religious community.
Set almost entirely in a barn, Women Talking is adapted from Miriam Toews’ novel which tells the story of Mennonite women systematically drugged and raped in their community and the different women in their community as they come to terms with these crimes and decide their next decisions. Ona (Rooney Mara) is pregnant following an assault whereas Salmone (Claire Foy) is a furious woman seeking resolution following her four-year-old daughter’s assault. Mariche (Jessie Buckley) is a domestic violence victim who struggles to decide what is best for her and her family at this time. All the women begin to talk about what to do next: stay or leave, and wrestle with the effect each could have on their lives and their faith.
Polley does a superb job with the story, beginning after the reveal of the rapes and how the women grapple with shared trauma. With a muted palette, the film’s performances are the main drawcards and keep the audience engaged. Each character speaks their lines with such weight and despite the overwhelming decision they have to make, the film has an inherent positivity of women finally talking, being heard, and self-determining their own future.
Buckley does a solid job as a woman torn between her own circumstances and independence. Foy brings a brilliant rage to the film, entirely opposite to Rooney’s more calm and self-assured Ona. The multiple other women are equally as powerful, clashing and reasoning their way through a situation that feels like any ending could be unsatisfying.
Women Talking is a fascinating story that is powered by language. Many of the women have been silenced in their relationships and even in their own community and seek to have their voices heard for the first time. Meanwhile, they consider carefully their own language and debate heavily on these semantics. These honest conversations are a reprieve from the more busy blockbusters often released and make for an unforgettable drama piece.
Women Talking makes for a powerful and timely piece that is driven by Polley’s ability to balance the tension of this film with the empowerment of these women in telling their own stories. It’s a hard watch at times, but essential viewing.