Dir.: Sarah Polley; Cast: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, August Winter; USA 2022, 104 min.
With all the dystopian dramas around at the moment Sarah Polley offers a rewarding human story full of hope that unfolds within a religious cult in a remote corner of contemporary Bolivia.
In the aftermath to ongoing abuse from their menfolk, a group of women – carried by a stellar cast of Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Frances McDormand – try to come to terms with their experience and focus on finding a positive solution to determine their future and that of their children.
For years, men have used cattle anaesthetics to subdue the women, raping everyone of them between four and sixty. On top of it, they have accused the women of making it all up, claiming that demons were at work. But the seven men are now in custody in the nearby town, the rest are collecting money to free the perpetrators from jail. The women have two days to come up with a practical answer: there are three alternatives: Submit to the men by forgiving them -to keep the status quo; stay and fight – or leave. Scarface Janz (McDormand, (the film’s producer) choses the first option, but she is in the minority and soon leaves the meeting. Ona (Mara) changes her mind and votes to leave, Salome (Foy) wants to stay and fight, even if that means transgressing the religious laws of the colony. Mariche (Buckley) even speaks out the unspeakable: committing murder as an act of revenge.
The only man present is schoolteacher August Epp (Whishaw), who is taking the minutes of the meeting. None of the women can read or write, having been deprived of the basic education. Epp is in love with Ona who is pregnant after having been raped. Another question is how to deal with the children: if they vote for ‘leave’, what will happen to the children. Maternal instincts will clash with the overall decision.
Women Talking is a calm and edifying experience. Salome comments “freedom is an endless meeting”, something straight out of 1960s. And: “Looking back, we saw that violence was happening everywhere”; the women try to explore their own guilt examine whether they have somehow colluded with their menfolk by letting them get away with abuse, just to keep the peace – and the religious order “set up by men”.
DoP Luc Montpellier reflects the vapid existence of these women with a bleached out colour palette of pale hues. In the end, with The Monkees “DaydreamBeliever” blasting over the end titles, nothing will be the same any more.
IN CINEMAS FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2023