NOW IN THEATERS! It’s difficult to think of a great film that transcends terrible acting. On the other hand, there are quite a few bad movies with incredible performances. While not quite “terrible,” Sarah Polley’s ponderous slog Women Talking tilts towards the latter. It boasts a remarkable ensemble and contains breathtakingly beautiful visuals. But its messages, delivered in a gravely solemn monotone, are simplistic to the nth degree. As the vulgar saying goes, “you can’t polish a turd.”
Perhaps you can, as most reactions are those of unadulterated praise. The weighty themes! The relevance! The oppression, injustice, and perseverance against all odds! To boil it all down: f**k men, the sadistic rapists they are. Oh, but Polley wants to make a point that not all men are like this. Some are like Ben Whishaw’s August – sniveling weaklings and struggling educators whose sole value lies in raising young boys in their likeness. As for the rest of them, well, f**k ’em. And the Oscar goes to…
“…tranquilized with cow medication and then brutally raped on a nightly basis…the women who have finally had enough.”
Let’s backtrack a little from my impassioned tirade. Women Talking begins with the proclamation, What follows is an act of female imagination. This is a reference to the excuse given by the rapist men to the women that accused them. Dwell on that for a minute. Set in 2010, the story focuses on a deeply isolated religious community. Women are tranquilized with cow medication and then brutally raped on a nightly basis. Even four-year-olds fall victim to these unspeakably evil and purposefully never seen men. The one exception is the aforementioned hapless August, who is chosen as the note-taker by the women who have finally had enough.
Among them are the pregnant Ona (Rooney Mara); the mother of an abused child, Salome (Claire Foy); the deeply embittered Mariche (Jessie Buckley); and matriarch Agata (Judith Ivey). Frances McDormand – also a producer – makes a brief appearance, firmly stating: “Forgive the man, so he’ll be allowed into the gates of heaven,” before refusing to have anything to do with this committee. The rest now face a vote: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. When the vote is split between the latter two choices, deliberations commence.
Salome, understandably, “cannot forgive” and will resort to murder. Mariche questions the meaning of forgiveness. “Is forgiveness that’s forced upon us true forgiveness?” she wonders in a rare moment of gentleness. Ona has an idyllic vision of educated women and everybody loving each other. As for the men – “We’ll kill them,” she says dryly at one point. Otherwise, it’s all overwritten monologues and endless meetings, the funereal pace making the 100 or so minutes seem like three hours.