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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 5, 2023



‘WOMEN TALKING’ is currently nominated as best picture in the coming Oscars. 

It is based on the 2018 novel with the same title by Miriam Toews, an excommunicated Canadian Mennonite who, in turn, based it on a true story that happened in a Mennonite community in Bolivia.  

Mennonite and Amish communities are known for their very simple way of life, wearing plain clothes, using manual labor, refusing to adopt modern technological conveniences, living away from the outside world and submission to God’s will.

Written and directed by Canadian actress-filmmaker Sarah Polley,  the story happened in 2010 after the women found out that the men in their community are drugging them, using tranquilizers meant for cows, then raping them while they’re unconscious.  

In the film, the women are made to be no read-no write illiterates so the men can easily subjugate them. 

They are made to believe that their being raped while asleep is the work of ghosts or the devil. 

When the film starts, the rapists have already been arrested by secular authorities and jailed in the city. 

The other men in their patriarchal community go to the city to help bail out the rapists. 

The women are left by themselves, giving them time to study and assess what their next moves would be.  

They hold a meeting and believe they have three options: to do nothing, to stay and fight, or to leave their male-dominated community. 

They have to arrive at a common decision before the men come back. 

Helping the women in taking down the minutes of their meeting is August (Ben Whishaw), the community’s schoolteacher who teaches only the boys. 

The women who take part in discussing what their final decision would be include Ona (Rooney Mara), currently pregnant without knowing who the father is and Salome (Claire Foy), who just walked for a day and a half to obtain antibiotics for her small daughter who has been raped (yes, the attackers are pedophiles, too.)  

Then there’s Mariche (Jessie Buckley), a battered wife used to being a punching bag of her abusive husband, and their mothers, Agatha (Judith Ivey) and Greta (Sheila McCarthy.) 

Then there are the two tween girls, Autje (Kate Hallett) and Neitje (Liv McNeil), from whose viewpoints the story unfolds, with Autje as narrator. Three generations of women are thus represented on screen.

Scarface Janz (Frances MacDormand in a very short role) is against doing anything and quickly leaves their meeting. The other women are torn between fighting and leaving.

They go through the pros and cons and the discussions become so heated and emotional, making the film a perfect example of superlative ensemble acting where everyone is just splendid in their respective roles.  

“Women Talking” is the second movie shown last year that is about women who fight abusive men. 

The other being “She Said” about how the crimes of rapist producer Harvey Weinstein were exposed by courageous women journalists. Both films are directed by women with superb female ensemble casts. 

“Women Talking” is a very dialogue-driven drama that could have been unwieldy due to many characters with varying views, but Polley’s writing (nominated as Oscar best adapted screenplay) and the great cast of actresses who are so considerate and generous with one another gave it real heart with satisfying emotional stakes.  

They know when to step forward or move back to give each actress their own moment to shine. 

Rooney, Claire and Jessie make the most of their best scenes, showing the hurt and outrage of women determined to protect their children from abusive menfolk. 

The screenplay shows the talking women not indulging in just idle chatter but delving into family relationships and even serious philosophical and theological matters.

Their arguments are valid: how are they supposed to survive out of their colony when they are all illiterate? None of them has left the colony before and they don’t know anything in the outside world.  

Not to make it so heavy handed, Polley injects scenes showing the intrusion of the outside world, like when a census taker drives by in his truck with a Monkees song, “Daydream Believer”, blaring in his loud speaker.   

Autje and Neintje are fascinated by the song which is obviously something new for them as any sign of the modern world is denied them. 

August, the teacher, is the only one who has studied in a university outside of their colony and he sings the Monkees song, apparently reminded of his brush with the outside world. 

Viewers looking for action will be bored since, as the title suggests, all that the women do is talk. 

But their courage as they closed ranks and all the on screen deliberation, as they arrive on a decision that will change their lives forever, are so incredibly touching. 

It demonstrates that solidarity among the abused and the oppressed is the true key to survival. You will feel that your own faith will be tried and tested. 

We never expected to be that affected by the movie, but the final scenes really moved us to tears. 

In real life, the seven men found guilty of raping their women folk in Manitoba County in Bolivia were sentenced to spend many years in prison. 

The gender inequality and abuse of religious authority shown in the movie really happen, as seen in the series, “Under the Banner of Heaven”, where some Mormon men believed that God has directed them to kill their sister in law. 

The Catholic church has tried to cover up the cases of priests molesting children as shown in the Oscar-winning film, “Spotlight”. 

Last year, there was a report that the Southern Baptist Convention covered up cases of their pastors molesting children. 

The Christian authorities ordered the victims to keep silent with threats of excommunication, using the command of Jesus to forgive our enemies. 

The movie actually gives Christians a model on how to address such sexual scandals within their ranks.

We also want to commend the film’s desaturated cinematography with its very muted tones that suit the predicament the women are going through, and the guitar-driven musical score that is full of yearning and compassion.