Women Talking (2023), Director – Sarah Polley, Universal Pictures International, 5*****: Matthew Alicoon

Women Talking

Universal Pictures International

Running Time: 104 Minutes

UK Wide Release: Friday 17th February 2023

Women Talking is inspired by the real-life attacks that occurred at the Manitoba Colony between 2005 and 2009, a remote and isolated Mennonite community located in Bolivia. The film is based on the book of the same name and is about a group of women who must vote on the fate of their future which involves three choices: Stay and fight, stay and do nothing or leave.

The film quickly establishes the notion of being an act of female imagination and Women Talking masterfully serves as an idealistic response to the Manitoba Colony tragedy that proves there is light at the end of the tunnel despite the darkest of backstories. As a conversation piece, the script by Sarah Polley is sublime, as it tackles a multitude of topical issues importantly with the overall approach being tormenting yet hopeful. The script resounds in a payoff where Women Talking is arguably one of the most impactful films in years. The words said throughout the film are profound, reflective and engraining as they are unquestionably sentimental but importantly sympathetic. The film tackles male dominance in a harrowing and unrelenting way through the distressing flashbacks showing how each women has succumbed to becoming a victim of the monstrous horror within the community but through the performances there is an extraordinary responsiveness of empathy and pain you feel for the group while watching. Women Talking is truly a film about power play and how that power is consistently held by the women no matter what the circumstances are. Thematically, unanimity and choice are at the core where the cohesion and harmony of the group glisten throughout. Despite the contained nature of the story mainly being set within a hayloft, the film never feels stagey as it retains an elegant cinematic portrait of the previous events.

Women Talking demonstrates a magnitude of audacious and contrasting performances through how trauma transpires through each member and how it instigates their attitudes on life. Rooney Mara as Ona is portrayed as the calmness of the group but despite her trying to bring peace to the group when tensions arise you still feel the pain behind her eyes. Claire Foy as Salome gives a mannered performance, as her eyes and voice tone give that horrifying sense of despair. The two career best performances belong to Jessie Buckley and Ben Whishaw who are sensational. Ben Whishaw plays August, a man who is hired to take notes of the meeting minutes but as the film progresses, we learn more about his backstory resulting in a transformational performance carrying vulnerability yet optimism and hopefulness. A complete departure from Q in the Craig era of bond films and the voice of Paddington Bear. Jessie Buckley as Mariche gives a marvellously multi-layered performance emphasising the moral dilemma she faces, as Buckley plays the opposite side of the majority captivatingly.

The technical aesthetic choices serve the film purposefully. The extremely desaturated colour scheme is evocative and metaphorical as director Sarah Polley describes the world as “A world that has faded in the past”. Women Talking is almost in black and white but not fully and the distinct viewpoint of the colour palette represents the ideology that there still is hope even in the bleakest of times. The 2:76:1 serves as an unconventional yet richly explorative choice to witness this story play out. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s soundtrack is prominent at the appropriate moments with a strikingly powerhouse end.

My hats go off to Sarah Polley for making such an important, timely and critical piece of cinema that will hopefully be remembered for many different reasons. Women Talking fully deserves the best picture nominee and it should be one of the frontrunners to win. Once the credits appear, the film washes over you due to the meditational examination of consequences, grief and trauma. A flat out masterpiece.


Rooney Mara as Ona

Claire Foy as Salmone

Jessie Buckley as Mariche

Judith Ivey as Agata

Ben Whishaw as August

Frances McDormand as Janz

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