Review: Women Talking- The women without a voice

"How would you feel if, for your entire life, it didn't matter how you thought?"

Esther Arnold
14th March 2023
Image Credit: Twitter- @FilmUpdates
Based on Miriam Toews’ novel, Sarah Polley’s film Women Talking is inspired by the series of sexual assaults of the female civilians residing in the Mennonite colony of Bolivia.

Drugging the women at night, the men satisfied their sadistic needs every night for years, covering their tracks by blaming demons and the predictably mentioned female ‘hysteria’. Lacking any sort of education due to the firm grip of the male elders on the community, the women of the colony must decipher a fight or flight scenario which leads to a clash between religious devotion and one’s own freedom.

After the men have been taken to the nearest secular town due to teens Autje (Kate Hallett) and Nietje (Liv McNeil) catching one in the act, the women are left with an ultimatum- forgive the men and continue living as they were or be exiled themselves and subsequently denied entry to heaven. This is a seemingly unfair proposition to those watching in the comfort of the cinema, as we are captured by the complex discussion of the pros and cons of either leaving or staying to fight. Over the next 104 minutes we are taken step by step through their thought process, grappling with the moral issues of Christianity and maternal protection. Though set in 2010, the clothing, dulled colour palette and rural scenery of the colony give a timelessness to the shots, aptly highlighting the constant presence of female struggle throughout both archaic and modern societies. The simple life of the community is studded with the modernisation of the odd biro pen and a four-by-four driving by blasting the Monkees’ Daydream Believer, reminding us of the recency of this incident.

Determined Salome (an encapsulating Claire Foy) battles with the knowledge that her four-year-old daughter has been preyed upon as she struggles against Mariche (Jessie Buckley), both fighting for what they believe to be the proper response to the distressing revelation. While most of the film is set within a single room of a barn, we become familiar with what each character brings to the table as they present their own internal struggles. In particular Ona (Rooney Mara), a woman made pregnant from the sexual assaults, explains the ideal colony she dreams of, wishing that “women would be able allowed to think”. A heart-breaking request that no one should have to ask for.

Though not showing the actual scenes of assault, Polley relies on the excellent acting of the cast to properly portray the issues at hand. Female courage shines brightly as the actresses truly offer a beautiful though heart-wrenching performance of the strength of women coming together and standing in the way of tyranny. Modern issues regarding misogynistic influences on the younger generations are displayed, a prevalent issue today as we are dominated by numerous sexist and extreme figures across social media and online.

Though having a biblical focus throughout, this is much more than your average film preaching faith and fidelity. It is an outstanding image of female empowerment that gives #MeToo a deeper meaning, strengthening the want for change.

Feminism at its finest 10/10

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