Women Talking

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5/5 (1)

Sarah Polley (“Stories We Tell”) is never one to shy away from disquieting subjects. In “Women Talking” Polley adapts a tense and insular film based on the novel by Miriam Toews. Told mostly in a series of monologues and verbal questionnaires, the story is anxious, moody, and pensive by turns.

We are in a rustic farmhouse in Bolivia. A group of Mennonite women are disturbed by visions in the middle of the night. Gore drips from between their legs, monstrous and purple. The young women are told by the elders that their pain and terror has no organic cause, but is in fact the work of Satan or a male succubus.

The evidence is so physical and concrete however, that the women can only conclude that they have been raped by the male community.

Understandably they are traumatized and humiliated, and some of them have PTSD. The women decide to bond and to carry out a vote: either to stay and fight, to forgive and say nothing about the rapes or leave.

Frances McDormand heads the cast as a severe and wizened force. The iconic Judith Ivey is also terrific as the authoritarian mother of the group who, nonetheless, has an empathetic heart.

Three-quarters of the film evolves as a tense therapy session as seen thru the lens of supernatural oppression, edged with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” The entire film can be seen as a woodcut in motion by Kathe Kollwitz. The cinematography by Luc Montpellier is as intense as the plot. All is brown and gray and scorched at the edges. The film, especially at its beginning could very well be one of Halloween horror.

The terror here, sadly, is real and it is the male sex. Though their violence is ever present we only see the monsters in shadow and this makes the course of events all the more uncertain and eerie.

Surrealistically it is “Daydream Believer” by The Monkees that cements the group’s resolve— a pop music call for liberation.

Gradually the group speaks for itself and they do take a collective vote, surviving attacks and health scares along the way.

A wonderful score by the inimitable composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker”) accents the emotional proceedings.

“Women Talking” belongs in the mindful canon of films starting with Kitty Green’s “The Assistant” and Maria Schrader’s “She Said” for its unsentimental honesty. One might like to think that the offenders here are the stuff of phantasms and spooks, but horribly the poltergeists here are men—all too real creatures of flesh and blood incensed with male dominated greed and gluttony.

Write Ian at ianfree11@yahoo.com

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