WOMEN TALKING (2023)

January 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Do nothing. Stay and fight. Leave. Those are the three options a group of women debate in the loft of a barn on the edge of their religious commune. The true story that inspired Miriam Toews to write her 2018 novel is horrific. Between 2005 and 2009, there were more than 150 cases of females being drugged (with livestock tranquilizers) and violently raped. They ranged in age from three to sixty-five, and this occurred in a deeply religious Mennonite community in Bolivia. The great writer-director Sarah Polley has adapted Ms. Toews’ novel for her first feature since STORIES WE TELL (2012), and we welcome her back as a voice always deserving of a platform.

When two girls spot a rapist running away one evening, an emotional fire is lit. The man is charged, and this leads the women to organize their own meeting to discuss the three options noted above. Rooney Mara plays Ona, the good-hearted optimist. Claire Foy plays her sister Salome who spends much time in rage mode. Jessie Buckley is Mariche, the often brutally abused woman who has her own strong ideas. If you are a movie lover, you immediately recognize that these three are among the best young actresses working today. What a pleasure to watch them do what they do … despite the material often being extremely uncomfortable and stress-inducing. This new generation of community women are joined in debate by the elders: Agata (Judith Ivey) and Greta (Sheila McCarthy), who both carry the burden of shame having raised their daughters in this environment. Scarface Janz (Oscar winner Frances McDormand, also a producer on the film) only has a couple of scenes, as she is stays strong in her ”do nothing” stance.

As the dialogue continues in the loft, we learn much about what these women, as well as the generations before them, have endured. Over the years, whenever victims have spoken up about the horrible abuses, their accusations have been dismissed as “wild female imagination.” The religious patriarchy has led to many years of submission and resignation to a lesser life – one that includes manual labor and a lack of education. These women cannot read or write, so they have asked August (an excellent Ben Whishaw) to take notes and list the pros and cons of the options. August is a gentle soul and the local schoolteacher who has an eye towards Ona.

Revenge, forgiveness, protecting one’s self and their children is all part of the discussion, as is the difference between fleeing and leaving. These women are finding their voice through the strength of each other. Cinematographer Luc Montpellier uses mostly black and white with some subtle color gradation for effect, as well as a contrast between interior (barn loft) shots and those of the outdoor vistas and fields (representing the outside world). The score from Hildur Guonadottier is heavy on strings and works perfectly for the story, and the inclusion of “Daydream Believer” from The Monkees is a welcome inclusion.

We don’t normally think of cinema as watching people sit around and talk. One of the best ever movies showing debate among adults is 12 ANGRY MEN, and this film takes a similar approach and is not far off from the level of that all-time classic. The courage of those real women from Bolivia was staggering, and Sarah Polley offers up this intellectual and thought-provoking approach to these women taking stock of their situation. It’s a gut punch, yet somehow inspiring.

Opens in theaters on January 13, 2023

WATCH THE TRAILER


STORIES WE TELL (2013)

June 9, 2013

stories1 Greetings again from the darkness. As a lover of indie films, I’ve long been an admirer of actress and director Sarah Polley. Her two feature film directorial efforts Away From Her and Take This Waltz displayed not just an eye for the camera, but more importantly, a unique story-telling vision. This time she turns and focuses her story telling skills on her own family, in what is a very intimate pull back of the curtain.

Polley takes a three-tiered documentary approach to the telling of stories associated with her mother (actress Diane Polley). Sarah intertwines interviews with her brothers, sisters and family friends with the voice recording by her father (Michael Polley) of his memoirs, and some staged Super-8 looking video of reenactments of certain events from these corresponding stories. It’s a different approach and works to keep the viewer engaged, even in the slower segments.

stories2 Much has been made of the variances within the stories told by the family members. In fact, the stories all seem remarkably similar but it nonetheless is a terrific study in memories and how we come to view our version as the truth. Of course, the obvious answer is that how a memory impacts us does in fact become our truth. Within the first few minutes of the movie, one of Sarah’s siblings says something along the lines of “Why would anyone care about our family?”. At this point, we tend to agree. Even once the real story and secrets are exposed, it’s not difficult to think that these stories could be replayed for numerous families throughout the globe. Sure, the Polley family has the whole showbiz thing, but for family relationships and personal secrets and associated pain, I’m not convinced there is anything extraordinary here … other than the fantastic presentation.

stories3 The value here, other than exorcising any personal Polley demons, is with the technical brilliance Sarah shows as a documentarian and story-teller. She spends little time on camera, but we realize this is much more her own story than that of her mother (as it’s set up). Clearly Michael was not fully engaged as a doting father, though that’s hardly unusual. It appears their relationship comes courtesy of Sarah’s commitment to making it happen … before, during and after the big reveal. Polley’s talents as a filmmaker have probably brought her family closer, despite the remaining question of exactly what her motivation was.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytq4VZ2Nyxg


TAKE THIS WALTZ (2012)

July 15, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. We have watched Sarah Polley grow up on screen. She began as a 6 year old child actress and evolved into an indie film favorite. Now, she is finding her true voice as a film director … and what a unique voice it is. In Away from Her (2009), she told the heartbreaking story of a husband’s struggle with losing his beloved wife to Alzheimer’s Disease. Now we get the story of Margot, who just can’t seem to find happiness or fulfillment within the stability of marriage.

Margot is played exceedingly well by Michelle Williams. I would say that without the casting of Ms. Williams, this film would probably not have worked. There is something about her that prevents us from turning on her character when she veers from her loyal, if a bit lacking in passion, husband Lou (played by Seth Rogen). Williams and Rogen have the little things that a marriage needs … a language until itself and the comfort of consistency. What Margot misses is the magic. She thinks she finds that in her neighbor Daniel, a rickshaw driver played by Luke Kirby. Daniel is the type that every guy inherently knows not to trust, yet women somehow fall for. He is a subtle and slow seducer. The kind that makes it seem like everything is innocent … right up until it isn’t.

Margot has that most annoying of spousal traits: she expects everyday to be like a trip to Disneyland. The best scene in the movie occurs when Lou’s sister (a terrific Sarah Silverman) confronts Margot and tells her that life has a gap and that you will go crazy trying to fill it. It’s a wonderfully insightful line from writer/director Polley. Of course, we understand that this is Margot’s nature and she learns that sometimes broken things can’t be fixed.

Another great scene occurs in the women’s locker room after water aerobics. There is a juxtaposition between generations of older women and younger ones. We see the differences not only in physical bodies, but in the wisdom that comes with age. More brilliance from the script. The one scene that I thought crossed the line was the “martini” scene. I found it tasteless, vulgar and far more extreme than what was called for at the time. But that’s a small complaint for an otherwise stellar script.

As terrific as Ms. Williams and Ms. Silverman are, I found Seth Rogen to be miscast and quite unbelievable as a dedicated cookbook-writing guy who has pretty simple, yet quietly deep thoughts about how a marriage should work. Again, this didn’t ruin the film for me, but I did find him distracting and quite an odd choice.

It’s filmmakers like Sarah Polley that keep the movie business evolving. Her viewpoint and thoughts are unique and inspirational, and should lead to a long career as a meaningful writer/director. Oh, and the use of Leonard Cohen‘s “Take this Waltz” song fit right in over the credits.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of intimate indie films OR you want to follow the career build of Sarah Polley

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer light-hearted Rom-Coms to thought-provoking relationship insights

watch the trailer: