Stars: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Ben Whishaw
Sarah Polley's richly allegorical and audacious adaptation of Miriam Toews 2019 novel, itself based on a true incident, is a bracingly original and vital piece of feminist cinema.
It’s set in the present day in a remote Mennonite community where a group of women have assembled in a sunlit barn to discuss whether or not they should leave their abusive patriarchal community. Women have been drugged and raped in their sleep with the menfolk accounting for the women’s bruises and injuries as evidence of demonic interference. Then, one of the women wakes up during one such assault and fights back. The men responsible are transported to a nearby city with half of the community’s male population going along to oversee their bail. The women are given two days to decide whether they wish to forgive their abusers or leave the community.
Devout senior female member of the community ‘Scarface’ Janz (McDormand, who also produced) argues that they should do nothing for fear of divine retribution and quits the hayloft meeting early, leaving the eight remaining women to debate their options. They include the thoughtful Ona (Mara) who is pregnant from one of the assaults; the rebellious and militant but vulnerable mother Mariche (Wallace); and the more practical and wily Salome (Foy) who, it is revealed, has already bent community rules when necessary. The sole male in attendance is the soft-spoken and sensitive August (Whishaw), whose family were excommunicated from the community, but who has returned and is on hand to write down the minutes for the illiterate group.
Despite the finely delineated views of the characters and a title that doesn’t moot a cinematic experience, Polley’s picture, which an opening title announces is ‘an act of female imagination’, circumvents didacticism and staginess via remarkable harmonious performances from the ensemble cast, and fluid camerawork and a gorgeous blue and grey-hued colour scheme from cinematographer Luc Montpellier. Harrowing material is leavened with moments of humour provided by the two irreverent daughters who are present at the meeting, and a tacit sense of hope and possibility at the conclusion.
Women Talking is released on 10th February
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