By Megan Bianco
A lot of filmmakers choose unflattering visuals to reflect a harsh theme or character in a movie. With Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, it’s easy to see that’s what she was aiming for with the cinematography.
This is a story about rape victims coping with abuse, so their world appears how they feel. Much like Maria Schrader’s She Said (2022), Polley’s film is underperforming, partly because most people don’t want to spend time at the movie theater focusing on such a serious subject matter.
Based on Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel of the same name, United Artists also heavily dropped the ball on Polley’s screen interpretation, essentially because of how difficult it would be to try to find a demographic for the film.
Women Talking attempts to be both feminist and naturally spiritual, with the victims a part of a Mennonite commune on a rural farm who haven’t lost their faith.
After experiencing too many attacks in the middle of the night and being gaslit into assuming it wasn’t rape by the men on the commune, the group of women comes together to decide what they should do about their situation.
Married Mariche (Jessie Buckley) believes they should just continue living their lives; Salome (Claire Foy) wants to physically fight back against her abusers; while pregnant Ona (Rooney Mara) thinks it might be best for the women and children to secretly leave the community and start over.
Once you accept the gray, washed-out aesthetic, Women Talking is a mostly interesting drama on women torn between their home, ethics and what they believe is right. Buckley and Foy have been getting the most attention for their emotional performances, but I was drawn most to Mara’s quiet, calm portrayal among the main trio.
Ben Whishaw is also effectively sympathetic and understanding as the one man we see on screen. Polley, an atheist, has done her homework (as did Toews, who was raised Mennonite), and doesn’t belittle or stereotype the group’s religious virtues.
We can successfully see how women from this type of environment would process and argue or challenge each other over their options.
What took me out occasionally wasn’t ultimately the color scheme, but how low the film was lit for most of the movie, even during daytime scenes. There were also a few moments of awkward comic relief, mostly from two teen characters, which landed completely flat, and I could have used less. Generally, I think I prefer Women Talking to She Said in terms of relevant content.