Women Talking

Listen to them!

Canadian actor/director/activist Sarah Polley works solely in indies, often portraying with great subtlety and economy damaged and conflicted women. So it is no surprise that director Polley would be drawn to adapting this propulsive novel from Miriam Toews. Good choice, as Polley took home a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar this year, and the film got a Best Picture nom.

It could not be more appropriately titled. Several Mennonite women meet secretly in a barn to decide what to do in the wake of an unexplained but clearly brutal sexual assault by the arbitrarily privileged male members of their isolated religious community (in 2010!).

The culprits were caught but are about to be released from custody, and the women’s choices are 1) do nothing, 2) stay and fight, or 3) leave. The latter, while clearly the sanest option, is also the most terrifying, as due to their religion’s sexist strictures, they can’t read or write and would have nothing in the outside world but their faith.

It’s a dense film; there’s a lot going on here. But it’s neither melodramatic nor exploitative, and imbued with an underlying emancipatory urgency that makes what each woman has to say quite riveting. And despite the grim topic, this is ultimately an uplifting, intellectually engaging film. It will require of you some amount of patience, but this will be rewarded. That Polley manages to leaven all this in a few spots with a few much-needed jolts of spot-on humor and joy is simply astounding.

And finally, all this talking is done by a terrific cast that includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw and Frances McDormand, who takes a producer’s credit. (104min)