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March is when Women’s History Month is observed yearly. March 2023 also happened to be when the Academy Awards were presented.

Writer/director Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” (Orion), a film adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name, was nominated for two Oscars including Best Picture. Polley took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay on March 12.

Set in a restrictive Mennonite colony where the women are regularly sexually abused, “Women Talking” zeroes in on what happens when, after years of being lied to by the elders (they are told they are the victims of ghosts or Satan), they discover their attackers are the men of the colony. A group of the women, who have long accepted their role and fate of being “bruised, infected, pregnant,” stand up for themselves and decide to take action to determine whether they stay and fight or leave.

The women of the newly formed action committee include expectant mother Ona (Rooney Mara), Salome (Claire Foy), and Mejal (Michelle McLeod), who lean heavily towards leaving. Mariche (Jessie Buckley) and Janz (Frances McDormand) are in the minority of those who want to stay. Older women Greta (Sheila McCarthy, familiar to some from the beloved lesbian classic “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing”) and Agata (Judith Ivey) attempt to be the voices of reason and remain open-minded throughout. While the youngest among them, Autje (Kate Hallett) and Netje (Liv McNeil), who caught their attacker (who, in turn, named the others), alternate between boredom, playfulness, and rage during the proceedings.

Ultimately, the women have a limited amount of time to make a decision that will not only affect them, but all of the women in the colony. Because the women are seen as less than and are not allowed education, they enlist the services of teacher August (out actor Ben Whishaw) to assist them by taking the minutes of their meeting. August’s family was exiled from the community years before, but after attending university, he has returned. His presence also takes on deeper meaning as he is in love with Ona.

What follows is a brutal portrayal of life in a 21st century religious community of people who exist as if they were from a much earlier time altogether. Shunning all modern conveniences, they travel by horse-drawn carts, their drab homemade clothing reflects modesty. There are no cell phones or TVs. The only music is the hymns they sing to each other.

Sarah Polley continues to prove herself to be a gifted director and writer. Even with its muted tones and mood, “Women Talking” is stunning to look at. Polley has given her ensemble cast a powerful and, as you might have guessed from the title, talky script. But all of the actors rise to the occasion turning in devastating performances (surprisingly, none were nominated for Oscars). At a time when religious fanaticism continues to be in the news, “Women Talking” serves as a reminder of the dangers to everyone.

Rating: B+

Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.