The story upon which Women Talking is based began as a horrific reality, became a court case and news item, then a novel and finally a film. Women Talking has been on a long journey. The anticipated film has won at festivals, opened in theaters, and is nominated for two Oscars, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Women Talking is based on the true circumstances within the Old Order Manitoba Mennonite Colony in Bolivia, South America. This community lives and functions under a strict code of isolation. In 2009 it was brought to light that many women and children of this colony had sustained horrific sexual abuse at the hands of a group of young and middle-aged men over the several years prior.
Canadian author Miriam Toews based her novel by the same title on this incident. In her novel, Toews imagined a group of women from the colony meeting together while the men were all off to the city for court hearings. Sitting in a circle in a hayloft the women discuss how they might move forward with their lives given this gruesome reality that surrounds their community. Whereas the women in the real-life community stay and not much changes, Toews opens up the fictional option for the women to have choices in how they will proceed under the circumstances: stay and do nothing, stay and protest, or leave.
The film takes it one step further. A representation of women gathers in a hayloft for 24 hours discussing the implications for themselves, their children, and the community. They cry and curse and argue and laugh. They talk about love and forgiveness. They sing together. Beautiful and comforting. And then they do come to a collective decision.
This all-Canadian film was adapted and directed by Toronto’s Sarah Polley. Polley, who has been an outspoken voice for and with the #MeToo movement, took the making of this film very seriously. She was deliberate in choosing a cast of actors who were able and willing to live into her interpretation and hopes for the film. An advocate for children after her own experience of abuse as a child actor, Polley’s approach to the children in the cast was also a deliberate one of providing them with freedom and safety, a contrast to the environment in which these children find themselves in the film.
The film is sensitive to the true Christian faith of the women of the colony. Polley goes so far as to not even mention “Mennonite” in the movie out of respect for that faith community. It is also not gratuitous in any way about the sexual violence that was endured, offering the very women who were abused their dignity.
This film is given a PG-13 rating but it might raise high emotion and anxieties for those who have suffered this kind of abuse. Despite the darkness of the subject, the film’s light shines through. Highly recommended for its outstanding storytelling, directing, and acting. (Amazon Prime, Apple TV+)