Discover more from Film Yap
Another Take: Women Talking
The rare authentic story about abuse of women that doesn't perpetuate that cycle with gratuitous depictions but rather uses a powerful ensemble of performances to convey the horror.
Film Yap is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Plenty of movies portray the subject matter of abuse. Occasionally, one of them gets it right. A talented director and a masterful screenplay can illustrate sexual assault without actually showing it. "Women Talking" is an example of this approach, effectively highlighting the aftermath of sexual violence through flashbacks and performance rather than the typical gratuitous assault scenes, a method we've accepted too readily as "entertainment."
I'm not suggesting we censor storytelling; rather, I'm advocating that we stop accepting violence against women that has become so common in the TV shows and films we watch that we've become desensitized to its effects.
"Woman Talking" is based on the 2018 novel by Miriam Toews about the horrifying actual events in Bolivia from 2005-2009, where 150 women and girls were drugged and raped by men in a secluded Mennonite community. The victims were ages 5 to 65. Eventually, the elders (all male) found out the attacks were happening, reported the crimes, and the eight men were tried and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Toews, who grew up in a Mennonite society, tells the events through fictionalized conversations of women using nothing more than their voices and imagination to initiate their freedom.
The film centers around an Agrarian religious community where the animals are safer in their homes than the women and children. Boys and young men are the only ones allowed to attend school; the women do not read or write. After another violent attack, the women secretly gather in a barn to vote on their options: 1) stay and do nothing, 2) stay and fight, or 3) leave the community. These women don't seek sympathy or retribution; they just want a safer world to raise their children and re-establish their beliefs on a moral basis.
The film's director and writer, Sarah Polley, who will undoubtedly earn an Oscar nomination, gracefully trusts the actors in this conversation-forward film as they engage in sophisticated debates. Polley fends for the character's religious life, never trivializing the women's faith and principles.
Emotional dialogue and superb performances drive this story. The talented cast includes Emmy Award Winner Claire Foy ("The Crown"), Academy Award Nominee Jessie Buckley ("The Lost Daughter"), two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe Award Nominee Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), Ben Whishaw ("No Time To Die," Mary Poppins"), and four-time Academy Award and two-time Emmy Award Winner Francis McDormand ("Nomadland").
With solidarity and conviction, "Woman Talking" reawakens our stories' power and the universal idea of freedom.