Women Talking [TIFF22 Review]

When watching a feature, you sometimes realize that you are watching a filmmaker in complete control of their crafts. This was my first reaction when watching Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, a film that boasts an excellent script and performances that leave you shattered but also hopeful by the end.

Reeling from multiple counts of sexual abuse, newly uncovered within their Mennonite colony, a group of women gather in a hayloft to discuss how to respond. While the men are away, the women narrow their options to three: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. Some fear that any act of defiance will jeopardize their entry into heaven, while others believe they cannot survive without husbands and sons. Some are willing to take measures to escape the terror of their domestic lives and insist that “the truth is stronger than the rules.”

In her first feature in a decade, Sarah Polley demonstrates a restraint often ignored when dealing with sexual assault stories. The way Polley chooses to tell the story with such restraint and yet, without ever making the attacks feel like nothing else but horrific, is a feat on its own. And then, you arrive at the script itself. Films that mostly take place in one space can be tricky because they rely on the dialogue and the performance before anything else. Women Talking is the perfect example of that idea and executing it flawlessly.

With no actual lead, the film relies on everyone in the cast, letting them all have their moment to shine. Many have already praised Claire Foy (The Crown) for her performance and heartwrenching monologue that will secure her an Oscar nomination. Still, the performance that has not left my mind since watching the film is the one by Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter).

Buckley delivers a nuanced and gutwrenching performance, especially as more and more is revealed. There is so much to talk about in terms of the way she crescendos her performance, bringing it home slowly and even without words at times; it’s one that continually evolves. If everyone gets their time to shine and everyone will connect to a character for one reason or another, Buckley’s heartwrenching performance as Mariche punched me right in the feelings. 

Polley’s use of imagery to tell her story is intriguing and captivating. She understands as a director that sometimes less is more; her characters use so many words at all times to make them choose to explain the past, but she instead uses minimal words. It’s a very deliberate choice, a choice that brings a sensitivity to the film that is much needed. She doesn’t need to use words. Instead, she uses Luc Montpellier’s incredible cinematography and Hildur Guðnadóttir’s magnetic score. 

Women Talking is powerful in every way. There is so much to dissect that multiple watches might be necessary to truly appreciate the intricate work that Sarah Polley put into the script and her direction. It’s a film filled with words but never feels like it is giving a lesson, instead telling a compelling story about a group of women who are at their lowest and much take action to survive. It’s told through a lens that never feels cheap or one that takes advantage of the trauma, instead treating everything with respect.