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KSanders writesFight or Flight: A Chicago International Film Festival Special Presentation of Women Talking

written by Kyle Sanders, reporting from the 58th Chicago International Film Festival

Aside from giving international filmmakers around the world a place to share their art, the Chicago International Film Festival also provides a series of "Special Presentations," or those highly anticipated films from celebrated filmmakers most likely to find their names on various short lists during Awards Season. This year, Chicagoans had the chance to catch sneak peeks of Darren Aronofsky's The Whale, Martin McDonagh's The Banshees of Inisherin, and Sam Mendes' Empire of Light. Standing toe-to-toe with those male Hollywood heavyweights, is actress/director Sarah Polley, who shared her latest work, Women Talking.

Polley and cinematographer Luc Montpellier received this year's Visionary Award from CIFF, and I got the chance to attend the event (held at the Music Box Theater) and see their latest (and third overall) collaboration. Women Talking is an engrossing drama about a group of women in an isolated Mennonite colony who gather to discuss what to do about the ongoing sexual assaults they've endured from the men of the community. It's adapted from Miriam Toews' best-selling novel, and couldn't be more prescient in a post-Roe v. Wade America.

Women Talking

The film features an ensemble of acclaimed actresses of varying years in the business. From recent Oscar nominees Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Carol) to Emmy-winning Claire Foy (The Crown), and veteran actresses like Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Fargo, Nomadland) and Tony-winning Judith Ivey ("Steaming," "Hurlyburly"), the cast's emotive faces fill every frame with expressions blistering with anger, frustration, and pain. They flow in and out of conversations that shift from unified to divided within seconds. The claustrophobic barn the women congregate in feels so intimate, it feels like you're seeing a staged play on celluloid.

It's that kind of atmosphere Polley and Montpellier specifically chose when bringing this story to the screen. Polley wanted to tell this story as a heightened reality fable that feels like a grungy postcard from the past whose odor still lingers in the present. For Montpellier, he wanted to contrast the dark intimacy of the barn's space from the agrarian exteriors filled with light and color. It's an effectively subtle way to present these women deciding whether or not to stay within the confines of archaic customs, or plunge their way into the bewildering terrain of the unknown.

Sarah Polley and Luc Montpellier

Sarah Polley and Luc Montpellier

What was definitely known was the audience's reaction to this film. It received an overwhelming amount of cheers and applause as well as a much deserved ovation for Polley. Only her third film (behind the Oscar-nominated Away from Her and Take This Waltz), Women Talking is her most ambitious to date, presenting those "sticky questions" involving power and choice while keeping the spirited content of the novel alive through the performances of its all-star cast. With its hand firmly placed on the thermostat of today's political climate, Polley's film should keep the dialogue going as it rolls into theaters this December (when I can provide a full review). It's no wonder she and Montpellier received this year's Visionary Award--Women Talking is a vision worth seeing.

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Categorized: Movies

Topics: chicago international film festival

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