VIFF 2022: Women Talking

Directed by: Sarah Polley
Distributed by: Universal Pictures and United Artists Releasing

Written by Taylor Baker


In “Women Talking” based on Miriam Toews’s book, you get exactly what the title ensures. Women talking to one another, and while that is one of the film’s strengths it is easy to see how much more effective these discussions and the world in which they occur would be if one were reading Miriam’s novel. I’ve written multiple times this year about the valley that exists between many novels and their on-screen adaptations. The forms are not the same, the personal diary kept secret between you, the author, and sometimes the fictional character or characters almost always works better than a film adaptation can. So it seems does “Women Talking” in which a group of women are raped and beaten by the men who control every facet of their lives while they sustain an existence absent modern comforts while living in a colony that is seemingly located in middle America.

It is difficult to believe that a strong woman like Claire Foy’s Salome (one of the film’s main characters) who walked miles with her child in her arms to reach a mobile clinic for antibiotics wouldn’t have the strength to forge a life on her own long before the film occurs. Before the “Women Talking” begins the women of this religious colony (cult) find out that they have been attacked by the men of their group after being gaslit for generations into thinking it was merely their “feeble” minds causing them to be bruised, impregnated, and bleeding from the crotch night after night. Even if one could buy into those things being true, it is difficult to grapple with the logic of multiple generations of these strong women depicted in the film being too weak, too scared, and too afraid to leave the clutches of their abusive colony. Not only that but the film presents it as an absolute that the men who were found and accused of being rapists are brought to an outside “village” (possibly our contemporary society judging by the technology depicted in the film) and that for some reason they require the women the crimes were committed against present for the allegations to be filed against the perpetrators, they don’t need them for evidence to be taken, they don’t even need them for the judgment.

It’s unfortunate that something teetering so close to relevance and thoughtfulness is masked by logical foibles making one unable to take it too seriously. Polley’s direction is precise, though it does alight on moments of joy for brief snippets its frame never lightens, the mood is somber, the tone self-serious, and the stakes though life and torture are so impersonal to the viewer that despite harsh consequences we don’t find ourselves “feeling” with them. Perhaps a good comparison to make would be “12 Angry Men” which has had multiple adaptations, the best of which being Lumet’s in 1957. In it, there are 12 male characters discussing a moral dilemma seriously and in disagreement. Because the world of that film is defined, the consequences are clear, and the believability is high, so one isn’t preoccupied with making sense of the circumstances and is able to surrender to the form, the words, and the performances. For those able to do something similar with their viewing of Polley’s work I think there will be fans, for others such as myself that cannot get past what seem to be enormous logical fallacies, it is a marred attempt at something great.

“Women Talking” Trailer

“Women Talking” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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