- Director: Sarah Polley
- Writer: Sarah Polley
- Starring: Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand
Women Talking may be the simplest film of the year in terms of its concept, but it undoubtedly one of the most complex of the year, and it’s that conflicting push-pull that makes it one of the best of the year. Its simplicity lies in its setup: it takes place mostly over the course of a day or two, in and around a barn. But where it shows its complexity is in the discussions its characters have, the fascinating way its characters are written, and the conversations it will surely elicit after the credits roll.
Sarah Polley writes and directs the adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel, which deals with issues that are very much at the forefront of today’s headlines, but could have stemmed from any time in modern America. Indeed, this is part of the magic of Polley’s work: the film feels like, were it not for one brief scene where it’s clearly announced that the year is 2010, it could easily be taking place at any era. Perhaps that’s the reason that Luc Montpellier’s cinematography makes the film look like a tintype photograph; to trick the viewer into thinking it’s older than it actually is.
Naturally, there’s no signifying technology to speak of because the film takes place on a kind of Mennonite farm where the women are subservient to the men, no matter their age or physical status. So much so that the men have become more violent, more sexually aggressive, and more cruel to the women that toil in the fields and bare their children. The film wastes no time in setting up the stakes, as the women decide they’ve had enough and vote on whether they should stay and forgive the men (lest they be denied entry into heaven), stay and fight and potentially reshape their community in a better way, or leave and take their chances in a world they know nothing about.
This debate takes up the bulk of the film, amongst a select group of women, namely Ona (Rooney Mara), Salome (Claire Foy), Mariche (Jessie Buckley), Agata (Judith Ivey), Greta (Sheila McCarthy), and Mejal (Michelle McLeod), plus August (Ben Whishaw), the only male allowed to stay behind, to take notes during the meeting. Polley’s adaptation makes sure to give each woman their own voice and perspective, without revealing too much or over-simplifying their worldviews. And each performer gets their own moments to shine; it’s a fool’s errand to pick the best performance of the bunch, though Buckley and Foy will surely pick up the most awards attention. There are moments that feel like the film was adapted from a stage play, and there are pieces of dialogue that feel a little too writerly, but every character has an interiority that feels grounded and emotionally real above all.
It’s a credit to Toews and Polley that Women Talking strays away from being more than a #MeToo parable. Much like 2020’s The Assistant, Polley never shows the faces of any of the Convent’s men, let alone gives them an audible voice – with the exception of Whishaw, of course. And the sexual violence is simply another item in the women’s long list of reasons to resist. Truly, they just want a place where they’re heard, where they’re understood, where they’re treated as equals, where they have a voice. And though the prospect of a nearly two-hour film that’s almost entirely one long debate sounds daunting, Polley breaks it up with plenty of lovely moments that show that this is a community that has the potential to thrive.
Like the best films, Women Talking doesn’t end at a place of easy resolution. Sure, the final notes look and sound triumphant, but there’s surely another film’s worth of discussion to be had on what the community’s lives look like once the film proper is over. This is but a small chapter in these women’s lives, but its impact – both emotionally and practically – will last a lifetime, and Polley never lets us forget it.
Women Talking was viewed as a Special Presentation screening at the Heartland International Film Festival. United Artists/MGM will release the film on December 2.
- One of the surprises out of the Toronto International Film Festival was Women Talking taking second place for the Audience Choice award, indicating a strong support from general audiences. Unless something shifts dramatically, or if Orion fumbles the film’s campaign, expect big things for the film’s Oscar chances.
- Sarah Polley has never received a Best Director nomination and, even though the competition will be fierce, I expect her to receive a nomination. Were it not for Spielberg and The Fabelmans, I could easily see a world where she wins as well.
- The trickiest prospect for the film is its acting nominations since it’s such a heavily ensembled film. Buckley, who received her first nomination last year, feels like an easy choice, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Claire Foy or Rooney Mara show up alongside her – in the Supporting Actress field, of course.
- Supporting Actor is surprisingly stacked this year. I could see a world where Ben Whishaw receives a nomination, and I could see him missing out. Neither would shock me.
- Best Adapted Screenplay feels like a lock for the nomination at the very least, and could very plausibly win.
- Hildur Guðnadóttir won an Oscar in Original Score for her work on Joker. Her score here is fantastic as well, and complements the mood of the film perfectly. A nomination wouldn’t surprise me either, but it will likely boil down to industry support for the film overall.
4 thoughts on “Women Talking – Movie Review”