Women Talking – Film Review

Women Talking – Film Review
by Fran Winston

Directed by: Sarah Polley
Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand

In cinemas on February 10th

This film is based on real events that took place in the Manitoba Colony, an ultraconservative Mennonite community in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia. Between 2005 and 2009, more than 100 girls and women in the colony were raped at night in their homes by a group of men who sedated them with an animal anaesthetic. The youngest victim was three years old, and the oldest was 65. It is a shocking story. So of course, it makes perfect sense to transport the action to America for this film.

Following the basic principle of the real story, this opens with a scene of a young woman in an isolated religious community waking up with visible bruises and wounds on her hips and inner thighs. Shortly afterwards, the women discover that the men have been using cow tranquillizers to subdue and rape them. When their attackers are arrested and imprisoned in a nearby city, most of the men of the colony travel to organise their bail, leaving the women by themselves for two days to determine how they will proceed. When they can’t collectively agree on whether to stay or leave, eleven of the colony’s women band together at a hayloft to make a final decision,

They proceed to debate what to do for the best, torn between the fear of having to venture into the outside world, which is a complete mystery to them or staying in a colony where they have been so viciously abused. They are also fearful of repercussions from God.

That’s it. That’s the film. The title is quite literal as this is nearly two hours of the women talking about their options. While there is no denying that the message of the film is an important one it does mean that drama is forsaken for debate. Polley has decided to tell us and not show us – an unusual choice since cinema is a visual medium – and two hours of any debate, no matter how worthy the topic, can become tedious. Indeed, I found myself looking at my watch more than once.

Interestingly, Polley never really explores the psyche of these religious colonies where the women are less than second-class citizens. God is mentioned a lot as a reason to stay and no one ever questions that. This could easily have been set hundreds of years ago given how far removed from contemporary existence this colony is. The only indication that this is set in modern times is a census taker driving through the colony blaring out Daydream Believer from his car.

While there are some powerful performances, and a sweet but doomed love story between Ben Whishaw’s August and Rooney Mara’s Ono, pregnant following her rape, this always feels like it is trying to be very worthy and highbrow. I am an advocate for more female-focused cinema, but this feels more fitting for a stage than the screen. Yes, the issues raised are important, but the point is laboured for far too long and it makes for a rather dreary screen experience.

Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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