This year’s Austin Film Festival had such a great line-up of feature films made by some of the most talented directors who have worked in cinema for the past several decades. As I was selecting my movies, I would see names like Darren Aronofsky, Rian Johnson and would instantly want to select those screenings. I had the same reaction when saw Sarah Polley’s name as the director of Women Talking, and I didn’t even have to read the synopsis to know that I had to screen it.
Based on the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews, Women Talking might initially seem like a period piece, but in actuality it is not. The movie takes place in the year 2010. Several Menonite women, from a mostly isolated colony, have gathered together in a hayloft to privately discuss what their next plans will be. Over a course of time, several of these ladies, of varying ages, have been sedated and raped in their sleep by unknown male assailants. It has gotten to the point where they can longer continue enduring this abuse.
They have all determined that their options are to stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. Given their devout religious beliefs, which includes the view that women are supposed to be subservient to men, the idea of leaving their husbands behind proves to be a personal dilemma to some. For others, it is the idea of leaving a place that has been their otherwise comfortable home for so long. For the more defiant women fueled by their anger, staying and fighting would be the ultimate dream, as their assault was not their own fault. What it all comes down to is that each individual woman must decide what is the best course of action for herself and for the wellfare of her children.
Writer/director Sarah Polley has done it again, and made a tremendous film with Women Talking. Though the movie has its more gorgeous, cinema-friendly interludes that take place during breaks between discussion sessions by the women, the rest of the film plays out very similarly to a stage play. I mention this not as a flaw at all, but simply to prepare my readers for a movie that heavily driven by dialogue and performances. And these performances are absolutely incredible and tremendous.
Not only are they exceptionally written, the talented women actors assembled for this film are some of the best in current cinema. The movie features such wonderful talents as Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy, Emily Mitchell, Kate Hallet, Michelle McLeod, Liv McNeil, Kira Guloien, and August Winter. The movie features one remarkable male actor, Ben Wishaw, the colony’s teacher, and the only man who is genuinely sympathetic to their cause.
The solid direction and outstanding writing by Sarah Polley, and the phenomenal performance by the ensemble cast are THE reasons to go see Women Talking. It is one of my favorite movies from this year’s Austin Film Festival and is also one of my top films of the year.