Women Talking

Michelle McLeod, Sheila McCarthy, Liv McNeil, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Kate Hallett, Rooney Mara and Judith Ivey star (Photo: Michael Gibson)

Women Talking is a poignant dissection of the female experience exploring how, and if, we can escape a patriarchal society.

Women Talking, directed by Sarah Polley, and adapted from the book of the same name by Miriam Toews is truly something magnificent and when released will create waves of conversation as it raises questions about independence, ownership, freedom, and womanhood.

Women Talking was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022, though all words of this review were written entirely by the writers at Cinamore.

Set within in a Mennonite colony, a group of women are faced with making a collective decision on the evening before their sexual abusers are being released from prison: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.

While there is no direct violence shown on screen, there are scenes exploring sexual issues and the ever-looming threat of assault and exploitation, which is a worse horror for these women to suffer in silence daily with.

The women were made to believe that the atrocities caused to them during the night while they slept were a result of their sins, rather than the animal tranquilisers used to incapacitate them as the male colonists exploited their innocence.

No girl or woman of any age is safe in this colony and so action is needed, and they have two days to decide what to do.

After reaching a draw when democratically voting for their options, the women elect a body of those from the families on the colony to debate their options but call upon the colony teacher August (Ben Whishaw), to attend their debate and take the minutes. As the only male present, August is there as further proof of the gender inequality as all of the women are illiterate and even on an undisclosed level, the power balance remains off kilter.

With individuals of all ages attending this roundtable in the farmhouse attic, the phenomenal cast is revealed including Roonie Mara, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand and Claire Foy, who each carry pain, suffering and trauma from their experiences.

Ona (Rooney Mara) is with child, and though the child was forced upon her, she is questioning the world her unborn child will see. Comparably, Mariche (Jessie Buckley) and Salome (Claire Foy) both seek retribution of some capacity, while the young and elder women offer conflicting insights.

Initially, Women Talking presents itself as a dissection of the way in which Christian cults silence women, reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid Tale.

From its introduction, we are warned that the film is told from the women’s imagination, as if a piece of fiction that could never become true, but more importantly, what we never learn is the actuality of when or where it is set.

Assumptions are made from the nondescript mid-western American accents, the muted clothing worn, and the lacking modern luxuries including electronics, but it is only when August mentions something after World War II that we get an indication as to when Women Talking could be set.

And when a truck drives through the colony playing The Monkees’ Daydream Believer over its tannoy intermittently instructing the women to declare themselves for the 2010 census we truly grasp how contemporary Women Talking is and highlights the horrors women endure reflective of our own society.

A film about a decade ago is stuck in the wrong century culturally, and yet, with current politics, we are regressing in a similar way taking us closer to the alternate future Women Talking shows us.

To offer hope though, hiding its possessive gendered dialogue amongst tales, and philosophical debate, Women Talking at its most vulnerable becomes an outlet for these women in finding hope.

They hope that they could escape, hope that they can provide safety for their family, and hope that things can change.

However, as it instructs us, Women Talking is constructed entirely from their imagination, so it is up to us as an audience to decide whether it’s at all possible and whether we believe change can happen.

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By Conor Riley

Conor is the Founder and Editor for Cinamore, a publication focused on giving power back to journalists. As a portmanteau of the word 'Cinema' and the Italian word for love 'Amore', Cinamore aims to highlight the love that we all carry for the art of the moving image.


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