Women Talking ~ a review by Dora Endre

“Little is taught by dispute, everything by sympathy and love.”

Brad Pitt has spent millions of dollars on women. Yes, he has executive produced actor turned director Sarah Polley’s (Stories We Tell) gripping new movie, Women Talking.

The film is based on the riveting novel of the same name by Miriam Toews. Reference point: the novel was endorsed by such figures as fellow Canadian author Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) and called a “feminist manifesto” by The New York Times.

The plot takes place in a close-knit Mennonite community, more specifically in the colony’s hay loft. In this mysterious, bubble-like world women milk cows, braid hair, work on the fields and give birth to 10 to 15 children.

After two years of enduring repeated violent acts by rapists from within their gates, this time, women come together to decide whether to stay and fight or leave their colony altogether. They are intelligent, witty and fascinating to be listened to.

Toew’s story might hit some notes familiar in today’s climate, but this fictionalized take on the religious community is actually rooted in reality. Women and girls were drugged and repeatedly raped in their sleep by local men in the mid to late 2000s Bolivia.

You might think Women Talking is a “classic” #MeToo movie you have seen time and time again over the past years, hence you would rather pass. However, Polley’s film is not only about female empowerment. It goes from specific events and characters to the examination of the universal human condition. Women Talking is an airy and poetic piece filled with pacifisms.

Generations engage under the same roof in engrossing conversations. They represent highly different archetypes. From idealism and love, rage and frustration, through cold rationality and disillusionment to tranquil wisdom and acceptance. They meditate on new beginnings, faith, conformism, their responsibilities as mothers, finding innocence and love in everyone, the sacredness of their body, service, on how to embrace pain and on the difference between forgiveness and permission. They fear that by refusing to forgive the perpetrators, they will not be allowed to enter into heaven. Their discussions frequently turn into debates familiar from courtroom dramas like Terror by Ferdinand von Schirach or Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose.

Luc Montpellier (Tell Me Lies) brings us beautifully composed, washed out images – evoking the existentialist movies of Terrence Malick. Due to the narration, mostly we follow the story from a young girl’s gaze. Therefore the narration underlines the importance of early formative experience as well as the lingering presence of transgenerational traumas. Openness and meaningful connections seem to be the only form of healing. The gentle track by rising “superstar” Hildur Guðnadóttir as well as details like washing each other’s feet and offering water from one’s palm add to the picture’s sublime atmosphere.

Polley has a stellar cast, an ensemble that lives and breathes together like one single organism throughout the entire movie. Criminally underrated, Ben Wishaw represents gentleness and decency in men, portraying the boys’ school teacher with brilliance.

Women Talking is not a common #MeToo movie. It is not gasoline poured on a fire, it is more like a prayer recited quietly. Something, I believe, we all need more of.

Warning: These women are not “exactly” like the Kardashians.

Women Talking is now playing in theaters.

~ by Dora Endre ~