Women Talking

By Joanna Langfield

Sarah Polley’s remarkable drama is an uncompromising film about women who have been.

Drawn from a shocking true story, this dark but often brilliant piece takes us inside an isolated religious sect where, in 2010, the women realize they have been systematically abused by the men in control of the compound. We gather with them as they meet during a rare absence of those men, as they discuss their situation and what they can and want to do about it.

Set primarily in a dark barn, a terrific collection of actors tackle what is a barrage of dialogue, their fury and fear revealing itself somewhat systematically. And what a treat it is, albeit a pretty theatrical one, to watch them do it. While the bulk of the action (and words) centers on Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley, attention, too, goes to the elders (Frances McDormand and a marvelous Judith Ivey), young women (an outstanding Michelle McLeod) and even the more sympathetic of the men (symbolized by the always magical Ben Whishaw). We hear their stories, their horror and their determination. And, although the setting of this particular tale is somewhat unique, what these people are talking about are stories that could and have taken place almost anywhere.

But what I found most compelling is that setting. We don’t often get a peek inside these ultra religious compounds. And the dynamics of all that, nicely laid out here, are evocative and downright interesting.

There will be those who can’t handle this film. Polley isn’t making this film for people afraid of lengthy dialogue, claustrophobic conditions or blunt discussions of abuse. She has made a searing work that asks us to listen to women talking. That, in itself, is a notable accomplishment.