October 24, 2022

VIFF 2022 | Sarah Polley Listens to 'Women Talking'

"What follows is an act of the female imagination."
Rooney Mara Sarah Polley | Women Talking | VIFF 2022
Vancouver International Film Festival
VIFF 2022—Canadian actress turned filmmaker Sarah Polley adapts Canadian author Miriam Toews' powerful 2018 novel of the same name, Women Talking, loosely based on the horrifying true-crime events that occurred in the Manitoba Colony, an ultra-conservative Mennonite religious community in Bolivia, in 2011 when eight women held a secret meeting in a hayloft to discuss their options after learning they had been repeatedly drugged and raped during the night by the men in their colony.

Starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Frances McDormand (also a producer) in a small role, the impressive ensemble cast play leaders who must make the difficult decision whether to leave their colony, stay behind and fight, or forgive their abusers and carry on less they are denied entry into the kingdom of heaven. Ben Whishaw plays the only male character, an educated school teacher previously excommunicated, in the entire film and sympathizes with the women abused, assaulted, drugged, raped, impregnated, and gaslit against their will.

While it's never specified what time or place things are set other than the diegetic use of the song "Daydream Believer", the two-day conversation in the film and book are fictionalized from the ghastly real-life story of seven men from the Manitoba Colony put on trial after being accused of raping 130 women in their homes between 2005 and 2009 after drugging them with animal tranquillizer and blaming it on supernatural forces. Polley focuses solely on the victims and the consequences of the men's actions and not the actual crimes.

It's a powerfully told adaptation about the infuriating effects of institutional patriarchy and communal sexual violence in a closed religious community where social control dictates behaviour. Despite the gravely serious material, Polley injects enough touching moments of genuine humour and reverence highlighting the strong will of the resilient characters while balancing the depravity of the situations these innocent women are forced into. It's both horrifying and inspiring all at once.

Women Talking screened at the 2022 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations series at The Centre for Performing Arts.

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