Women Talking is the latest film from writer/director Sarah Polley who wrote and directed the incisive Michelle Williams drama Take this Waltz. Nominated for six Critics Choice Awards and two Academy Awards, Women Talking stars Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Ben Whishaw in the story of a group of women in a Mennonite community who debate their response to a series of attacks. In another example of appropriately restrained filmmaking, we never see the attacks, but slowly, we come to understand that the women are being sexually assaulted with vicious depravity. The women’s decision is simple: stay and fight or leave.
Women Talking is one of the best films of 2022. Once it settles into what it’s trying to do, it becomes captivating and compelling drama, as the characters’ relationships and histories become clearer, as their individual philosophies are articulated, and as their traumas are parsed and shared. Each character is an iceberg: only a small percentage is visible above the surface, and every performance is pitch perfect. Mara imbues her character with quiet strength, Buckley with rage, and Judith Ivey with perseverance and wisdom. In a film like Women Talking, It would be gauche to overly praise one of the male supporting performances, so I will only say that Ben Whishaw should have gotten more consideration in the Best Supporting Actor race; the same goes for all the performers in their respective categories.
At its heart, Women Talking is the most pro-democracy movie I’ve ever seen. It deals with people making collective decisions by talking things out and considering all relevant interests and points of view. The characters embrace the messiness of democracy because they understand how it often leads to the best outcomes, especially for these women in this community.
With its profound depiction of women’s empowerment and its concentration on the democratic process, Women Talking is timely and important. But because the performances and writing are so good, it is easy to miss Polley’s confident and compelling direction. Women Talking is a beautiful film when it needs to be, but the dark confines of the barn where these women are making this decision are shot dramatically.
The mere two Oscar nominations for Women Talking were disappointing, even though one of them was for Best Picture. But the Academy’s snubs shouldn’t keep people away from seeing one of the most interesting and compelling dramas of the year.