Women Talking

Women Talking ★★★★

For God knows how long, the women of an isolated religious community (Mennonite in everything but name) have been drugged with cow tranquilizer and raped on a regular basis during the night. The women had been told they were being violated by ghosts, demons, or even Satan himself — punishment for their own improprieties — and they believed that lie until two young girls saw one of the rapists as he scurried back to bed across the field one night. Some of the men were arrested, and the ones who weren’t have gone into the city to arrange for bail. The women of the colony, unsupervised for a short period of time, have roughly 48 hours to decide what their future will be like.

Adapted from Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel of the same name with fierce intellect, immense force, and a visionary sense of how to remap the world as we know it along more compassionate (matriarchal) lines, Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” never feels like it’s just 104 minutes of bonneted fundamentalists chatting in a barn, even though — with a few memorable, and sometimes very funny exceptions — that’s exactly what it is. Toews’ book could easily have been made into a play, but every widescreen frame of Polley’s film will make you glad that it wasn’t. She infuses this truth-inspired tale with a gripping multi-generational sweep from the very first line, which puts the violence in the rear-view mirror and begins the hard work of keeping it there.

“This story begins before you were born,” the film’s young narrator (Kate Hallett in the role of Autje) announces, passing these events down to a specific child while simultaneously framing them in the terms of a timeless moral fable — one set in an eternal yesterday that allows for an ever-possible tomorrow, despite the fact that it also belongs to a specific year in the not-too-distant past. As the story unfolds, Autje’s voice will ironically also be used in tandem with the fading sunlight outside the barn to help keep time and ratchet up the tension of the men’s threatened return. “We had 24 hours to imagine what kind of world you would be born into.

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