Adapted by Sarah Polley from Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel Women Talking, this is a powerful and heartbreaking film that tackles the complex issue of sexual violence. It is based on the true story of a religious Mennonite colony in Bolivia that suffered mass rapes.
The film begins with a shot of girls in long calico dresses braiding each other’s hair amid haystacks, horses clip-clopping down dirt roads and children playing. These images are a hint of the agrarian, piety-based world that is the setting for the women to meet and discuss their options: stay and fight; leave; or do nothing at all.
One of the most compelling aspects of the movie is its portrayal of the women’s personalities. Rather than simply trying to be like their male counterparts, these women have their own unique, individual voices.
Each woman’s voice is a little different from the next – Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley all bring different levels of anger and rage to their roles. Salome (Foy), a mother of a four-year-old daughter who was assaulted by her father, is bubbling over with rage; Mariche (Buckley) has a serious but romantic outlook on things; Ona (Mara) is pregnant and has been a victim of sexual violence in the past, so she has a strong sense of justice.
It is a very humane portrayal of the way in which women’s voices can be silenced or suppressed. Polley does a great job of infusing this with empathy, which makes the movie very effective, and it will resonate with many people.