Directed by: Sarah Polley
Written by: Sarah Polley
Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand
Released: February 16, 2023
Grade: A-

Women Talking

Ten films have been nominated at this year’s Oscars for best picture of those, Women Talking is the last to be released in Australian cinemas.  It’s the latest from the accomplished actor-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley (Away from Her, Take This Waltz) who has adapted the 2018 novel authored by Canadian Miriam Towes.  It is based on actual events that took place in Bolivia in the early 21st century but is aptly described in the opening credits as “an act of female imagination.”

Narration is required in the first act to set the scene.  A group of women from a remote, heavily religious community have learned a truly horrific detail about their existence.  The male leaders have been drugging women with a tranquilizer spray and then raping them on a nightly basis while unconscious.  The victims have long suspected the crimes but not until recently did they capture a man in the act and verify their claims.

The women believe there are three choices.  They can “do nothing”, forgive the men, and carry on as if nothing had happened.  They can stay in the community, fight their male oppressors, and create a more respectful world.  Or they can pack up their belongings, leave the town, and find somewhere better to live.  A formal vote takes place but, as it does not produce a clear result, a small group of women gather to debate the alternatives and agree on a course of action.

It might not be the most glamorous of titles but Women Talking is exactly that.  The violent men are deliberately kept off screen and the film’s focus is solely on these women, their often heated discussions, and the important decision they must make.  The cast includes Rooney Mara (Carol), Claire Foy (The Crown), Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter), Judith Ivey (What the Deaf Man Heard), and Frances McDormand (Nomadland).  Each character has a distinctive personality which provides value to the broader conversation.

This is a strong film.  It has something to say about topics such as community, family, power, gender imbalance, adolescence, groupthink, religion, and forgiveness.  It also offers strong production values – from the disorientating nature of the setting (it’s part current, part period piece), to the moving music score of Oscar winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker), to the outstanding actors who have been nominated for best ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for their passionate performances.