Telluride: Sarah Polley’s compelling look at women taking charge of their lives is an acting showcase.
“Women Talking” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday, immediately following a heartfelt tribute to director Sarah Polley, and the response confirmed its Oscar bonafides. However, Polley’s compelling look at a group of Mennonite women mobilizing against the rapists in their community poses a challenge for distributor UA/MGM, as his busy ensemble could end up competing with itself.
From the moment nine actresses from “Women Talking” took the stage prior to the film’s premiere, it was clear that the film had a wide range of performances. Polley’s gripping, stripped-down adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel takes place almost entirely in a barn, where the women in question gather to discuss their options. After finding out that men in their community were drugging and raping them in their sleep, they have already managed to arrest some of them – while the rest of the men have left town to arrange for the release of their compatriots. That gives victims a solid two days to discuss what to do next: stay and fight? Deal with it? Or the hell out?
The premise is almost theatrical in nature, but interspersed with a series of rich close-up performances. As the pregnant Ona, Rooney Mara plays the most insecure of the bunch as she exchanges knowing looks with Ben Whishaw’s sympathetic school teacher (the only male character on screen in the film). Claire Foy plays Ona’s fiery older sister who is out for revenge, while Jessie Buckley seems intent on fighting with everyone around her. This trio of performances stands out as the film’s most prominent, but there are also compelling turns from Michelle McLeod, Judith Ivey, and Sheila McCarthy, not to mention a small role for producer Frances McDormand as a dyspeptic older woman who doesn’t want a part in this procedure.
Given that the film often twists in different ways as each member of the cast contributes to the central debate, it is difficult to identify a single leading lady in the film. If UA/MGM submits its entire cast as supporting actresses (except for Whishaw, of course), it’s entirely possible that Whishaw, Foy and Buckley will all be nominated and compete for the same award. This strategy may mirror Open Road’s for “Spotlight” in 2016, when the entire cast was submitted in supporting categories (only Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams made the cut).
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However, a few scenes from “Women Talking” play out the dynamic between Mara and Whishaw enough to argue that she could be considered the film’s lead. The actress has already been nominated in both categories (Best Actress in The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo and Best Supporting Actress in Carol), but it’s not yet clear which of those categories would suit her best this year. Meanwhile, Whishaw’s sensitive performance is an obvious contender for Best Supporting Actor, although the season could get awkward if he gains momentum in that category while the rest of the cast cancel each other out.
Regardless of how this field of acting develops, Polley is a strong contender for Best Adapted Screenplay, having managed to condense Toews’ book into a compelling chamber play that condenses remarkable debates about patriarchal oppression and abuse into 104 minutes. Polley was nominated in this category for her tender debut Away from Her in 2006 and gained further recognition for her innovative 2011 autobiographical documentary Stories We Tell, but her younger phase – she also has a new book of essays released about her career, which explores her traumatic experiences as child actresses – positioning her as an industry veteran who could help further expand her appeal in the upcoming season.
The film’s inquisitive style and suspenseful pace will help it make its mark as a best director contender. In her tribute, Polley proved she was adept at explaining her lifelong experience in show business. “I remember Kathryn Bigelow saying to me when I was making my first short film, ‘You have to be like a dog with a bone, and everyone is going to try to take it away from you,'” Polley said. “That’s been confirmed by every filmmaker I’ve worked with.”
The film now has additional historical weight in the Best Picture category: With “Moonlight”, Plan B producer Dede Gardner became the first woman to win two Best Picture Oscars; If “Women Talking” won, she would be first with three. And her colleague McDormand would become only the second woman to win the Oscar for best picture twice, following her win for “Nomadland” in 2021.
These ratings depend in part on how well the film performs in other categories. Luc Montpellier’s sepia-toned digital cinematography is debatable, but the catchy, haunting score by Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker”) is definitely a highlight. The Icelandic composer could also compete with herself this season as she also wrote the score for Todd Fields’ ‘Tár’, whose leading lady Cate Blanchett will receive another tribute at Telluride this weekend.
Not only “Women Talking” dealt with isolated religious communities and dark secrets on the first day of the festival. The Wonder, the Netflix-produced adaptation of Emma Donaghue’s book, features a successful Florence Pugh performance as a 19th-century nurse assigned to observe a fasting girl at a religious community as she tries to change her life to rescue. Following her 2020 Best Supporting Actress nomination for “Little Women,” Pugh could be a dark horse for Best Actress, while the script — which director Sebastian Lelio co-wrote with Donaghue and Alice Birch — “Women Talking” could bring some company in Conversation about the best adapted screenplay.
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Netflix had a busy first day in Telluride arranging vans to transport journalists from the evening premiere of “Women Talking” at the Palm Theater to Werner Herzog for “Bardo (Or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths). ‘ made its North American premiere two days after a divisive reaction in Venice. Telluride regular Alejandro G. Iñaritu (he brought “Birdman” here to Venice in 2014) made the transatlantic trip last night and seemed keen to settle into a cozier atmosphere.
With its surrealist look at the plight of a Mexican documentary filmmaker and journalist (Daniel Giménez Cacho) returning home and wrestling with his identity, the film has been accused of being a nappy project of vanity, but it’s about much more than that: as Birdman did Iñaritu combines top-notch special effects with a fast pace and tongue-in-cheek tone to delve into the dream life of its troubled protagonist. While some viewers may feel that the three-hour runtime is asking a lot, it’s hard to imagine that any other film would take the place of Mexico’s official Oscar submission.
The Academy may be friendlier than the festival audience given the film’s prodigious level of craftsmanship, considering they have previously credited Iñaritu – the last filmmaker to win best director for consecutive films – and have many of the film’s naysayers themselves this admitted cinematic ingenuity in many scenes conveying the troubled consciousness of the main character. As with “8 1/2” and “All That Jazz,” Iñaritu has made an impassioned ode to the stricken artist’s plight, but the question remains how much audiences still want to embark on that journey. Netflix is giving the film an extensive theatrical run on November 4th, which will further raise its profile before hitting the platform on December 16th.
Telluride has plenty of other potential prize contenders. Just around the corner this weekend: Sam Mendes’ romantic ode to the movies Empire of Light, Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal road trip Bones and All and Tár, which has already garnered some of the most lavish praises from Venice yet. Stay tuned.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/women-talking-best-supporting-actress-1234758206/ The cast of “Women Talking” could compete for best supporting actress