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  • Writer's pictureValerie A. Higgs

2023 Academy Awards Nominee for Best Picture: Women Talking

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Synopsis:

Women in an ultra-conservative religious commune who have been terrorized by multiple sexual assaults have been given a directive: find a way to forgive their rapists before the men come back from bailing them out of jail. Realizing that forgiveness is completely out of the question, they instead vote to (1) stay and continue to put up with the men's abuse, (2) stay and fight, or (3) pack up and leave the commune.



I have been a fan of director Sara Polley since she starred in 1999's "Go". Turns out I was familiar with her work before then (she was a child in an episode of the Friday the 13th television series). Away From Her was her first breakthrough film as a director. The critics raved and she has been trusted with sensitive and thoughtful films ever since. I have been eager to see what other projects she would be getting involved in, and luckily, she chose Women Talking.


This movie, based on a book by Canadian writer Miriam Toews (which was an imagined response to actual events), was excellent and beautifully shot, but tough to watch and infuriating. I felt every ounce of Salome's rage (played by Claire Foy) and could understand why she would want to stay and fight. I personally would have wanted to stay long enough to do some damage, and THEN leave.


An interesting feature was the setting of the film. There were few hints that it was set in recent times. At one point, a 2010 census taker, trying to coax folks out of their homes to participate, drives by blaring music from the speakers on the roof of his car. If that hadn't happened, I would have had to guess from the few clues Polley shared. It was also a nice moment for the viewing audience to take a breath from hearing the devastating details of the sexual assaults.


This very easily could have been a stage play. The quality dialogue made this an actor's film. It reminded me of a traumatic version of A Dinner with Andre. And because there was only one main location for the "action", it could easily transfer to the stage with a minimum set. (Broadway, are you listening?)


We don't discover how the men of the commune feel about the sexual assaults going on at the commune - otherwise, it would have been called "Men Talking". The only man with a name and a face, August (Ben Whishaw), is a very sensitive "failed farmer and school teacher for the boys". He is tasked to keep his opinions to himself while taking the meeting minutes. Turns out he is the only one in the room who knows how to write and we do get an idea of how he feels about what has happened. The rest of the male population is mostly nameless and completely faceless, which only heightens the danger the women face as the deadline approaches.


I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" this movie, but I'm glad I saw it. I think this gets filed under my "one viewing" category, as I don't have any plans to revisit it. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to see a thoughtful, quiet drama heavy on dialogue and low on action.


For those who think women can't carry a movie, this one definitely proves you wrong. Women-led and woman-directed, this is definitely a winner.


By the way, Frances McDormand appears minimally in this film. I didn't know she was even in it until she turned up (I'm sticking to my rule of not researching before watching). I find it wild that she has either starred in or appeared in Oscar-nominated movies these past few years. I would like to see more actresses routinely appear in multiple quality films that may get nominated - much like Michael Stuhlbarg, who was in (count 'em) three Oscar-nominated movies in 2017 alone.


Should Women Talking have been nominated for Best Picture? Sure. Will it win the Oscar? I would be very surprised, but it wouldn't be the worst thing.





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