The cultural movement of the twenty first century is undoubtedly that of women and their rights. No longer do men hold privilege in how women of a modern world can live their lives. There is a story of an isolated Mennonite community that showed men what uneducated women with absolutely nothing to lose can do. It was their attempt to stop abuse both physical, mental and emotional in an effort to build a brighter, better future for their children. It was a powerful message to generations of privileged men who never deserved the devotion they were given.
It’s a disgusting story not even an imagination could conjure. And you’d be excused if you didn’t think there was any truth behind it. Sadly, it is based on some horrific events that put a stain on the history of this community.
2010 brings an interesting responsibility for the women in a small self-sufficient community. Pumping their own water from the ground to drink. Walking a day and a half to get any medical assistance. Homes surrounded by crops of food for this self-sufficient community that seemingly works perfectly as it has for generations.
But, each morning the women wake to bloodied sheets. Worse when they wake to teeth missing or brushed faces. Their morning screams of fear are heard by mother’s and sisters who know all too well their anguish.
While the boys are sent to school, the women and children go about their duties washing, cooking and cleaning. The men never lifting a finger have become educated leaving them to live their fullest life. The women who understand language as well as any child learning to speak, never reach any potential other than mothering a child.
In the dark of the night men would enter the houses of these women and spray a cow tranquiliser to temporarily paralyse these women and children. The women waking in the morning bloodied and bruised, unaware of what has happened to them.
Due to the women’s lack of education the men, in particular the elders, are able to convince the women it is the work of a greater power. Unable to make sense and putting faith in their beliefs as well as the elders of the community, the women carry on until their next assault.
It is until one evening two young girls manage to scare off an intruder. Having seen the man’s face the man is tracked down to a nearby community. From this moment things change for these women in a most life-changing way.
The man who was identified by the girls shares the names of many other men who would use this heinous practice. Some women decide to take matters into their own hands. The elders of the community out of fear for the men’s safety have them sent out of town. It’s this moment that gives the women two days to make a decision, forgive the men or be banished.
With no way of being able to fathom the responsibility or proceedings for what needs to be done, the women conclude with three options: stay, fight or leave. But when the voting is tied between fighting and leaving, select families are set to make a decision for all the female members of the community. Do they stay and fight for better respect, freedom, education and love? Or do they leave and not have to fight for what is rightfully theirs as humans.
Women Talking comes from the Producers of Moonlight and Nomadland. These two films are heavy in dialogue and imagery that captures that true human emotion and spirit. Women Talking is no different whereby the depth of the dialogue goes beyond words in a script or lines delivered in front of a camera. It goes beyond the mise-en-scène which is little more than a hay filled barn. Your attention is forced on the power of the performances.
It’s easy to talk about the script and story line, there’s no doubting the power and perfection of working on something so complicated for people who have no education to fathom what it is they are talking about. That’s made comically clear when Mariche (Jessie Buckley) goes to swear only using the term wrong and corrected by her young daughter.
Sarah Polley, the Writer and Director has managed to turn the concept of an in depth complex discussion into an in depth complex discussion by people who don’t have the capacity to do so. There are a lot of ways this is done and one is by the narration. The entire story follows Autje (Kate Hallet) who narrates what seems like a letter to a newborn child into the community. The delivery is innocent, not quite understanding the volume of what she is saying. It doesn’t come with a lot of emotion; be it it’s already been processed or for so long the actions have had the severity diminished there is no emotion left.
The use of detachment as a visual way of telling the story is also used. The most notable is the bleak and pale colour palette used throughout the entire film. It not only reinforces the dark and miserable days these women have to live through, it also symbolises the simplicity and basic lives these women lead. Even the sun setting holds no colour as they make one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
There is a lot of symbolic imagery throughout the film. Being that the film is mostly set around a group of women talking and not venturing far from the barn, every other shot used throughout the film needed to pack more than what it was showing.
One of two recurring themes are Greta’s horses. Greta (Sheila McCarthy) often uses her horses – or at least attempts to, to help make a point to her stories. The grand creature that doesn’t complicate matters either trots forward to its intended destination, or it creates a new path around the obstacle. It’s the horses these women not only needed to carry them to safety, but also helped symbolise their road to freedom on something bigger than man.
The second recurring theme was that of the innocence of children running in fields playing with each other. The main task for any mother is to protect their child, something they’ve struggled to do and very much not forgiven themselves for. The other task is for these select women to create a safer future for these children and give them the lives they deserve. The fields are easy to get lost in but if you push forward you’ll eventually find a path. And for these innocent children that’s their only option.
As mentioned there isn’t a great deal else happening within the film other than the group of women talking in a barn. There isn’t any fancy camera work or overuse of CGI. There’s no need for extravagant costuming or intricate sets. The performances of some of the most talented women working in film today are all the scenes required. And that’s exactly what the likes of Rooney Mara, Clarie Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy and Michelle McLeod managed to do. The depth and understanding of every word they are saying is felt and understood far beyond the screen. It’s personal as they manage to appear simple yet in their mind the smartest person in the room.
Women Talking is not a fanciful film, it doesn’t need to be. There’s no distraction or easy way out from the heavy content. The hardest part about the film is comprehending exactly what they are being tasked to do. And, the fact it’s based on actual events. While it’s not something anyone would wish upon anyone, nor would anyone choose to watch something about it; this film is important and should be seen by everyone.