At The Movies: Be moved by Oscar-nominated Women Talking, EO

Women Talking stars (from left) Ben Whishaw, Rooney Mara and Claire Foy. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Women Talking (NC16)

104 minutes, exclusively at The Projector
4 stars

The story: The women of an isolated religious community discover their men – husbands, sons, brothers – have for years been tranquillising and raping them at night in their sleep. Should they leave? But where to? Or do they stay and fight, but with what? Which path of uncertainty will deliver a safer tomorrow?

The horrific sexual assaults really did occur in a Mennonite colony in 2009 Bolivia.

Women Talking relocates it to 2010 America – specifically, a hayloft in a farm commune where the women convene to vote on how best to move forward.

The menfolk are largely in town for the day. The only man of note at the meeting is a timid schoolteacher (Ben Whishaw) tasked with recording the minutes because the women have not been taught to read or write – but they can, and do, speak.

Canadian actress-turned-writer and director Sarah Polley’s (Away From Her, 2006) intelligent adaptation of author Miriam Toews’ 2018 bestseller was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards, and the movie fulfils its title as a chamber piece of eight women from across three generations talking.

Calling it stagebound is no criticism. Why stray from the commanding performances by a pensive Rooney Mara, truculent Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy in full fury, and Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy as the matriarchs? Also in the barn are two adolescents (Kate Hallett and Liv McNeil), while actress-producer Frances McDormand makes brief appearances.

Passionately they debate their myriad, shifting perspectives on revenge, shame, forgiveness, salvation, hope and sorrow.

Tempers are raised. So are the stakes: a decision must be finalised before the men return. The vital discourses accumulate the urgency of a timeless moral parable.

Hot take: Who says talk is cheap? An ensemble of astonishing actresses invest their compelling dialogue-driven drama with a wealth of empathy and thought.

EO (NC16)

Lorenzo Zurzolo (left) stars in EO, the tale of a gentle donkey which embarks on a dangerous journey from Poland to Italy. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

88 minutes, opens on Thursday
4 stars

The story: The wordless title character is a gentle donkey. Once a circus performer, he encounters cruelty and fleeting kindness as he is captured, injured, traded – narrowly escaping an afterlife as donkey salami – and lost on his long, lonely journey from Poland to Italy.

At 84, 1960s Polish New Wave pioneer Jerzy Skolimowski (Deep End, 1970) is enjoying a remarkable career resurgence with EO, which was nominated for Best International Film at the Academy Awards and won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.

He was inspired by an even older master: Robert Bresson’s 1966 French classic, Au Hasard Balthazar, the story of a mistreated donkey that was an allegory of the Passion Play.

This beautiful and compassionate update, co-written by the director’s wife Ewa Piaskowska, is less religious than spiritual in its communion with its humble hero. It gives EO poignant memories of his beloved trainer (Sandra Drzymalska), from whom he became separated after animal rights activists closed the circus, and the octogenarian film-maker shoots many such expressionistic scenes with the hallucinatory aesthetic daring of a young punk.

EO could be a modern-day migrant or a Holocaust refugee in this dark and, at times, surreal fairytale of his nomadic odyssey across the European landscape.

He wanders from forests and towns to stables and slaughterhouses, and observes en route trapped fellow creatures, hunters’ rifles, a spider web, concrete dams, a football game that turns violent and even French actress Isabelle Huppert in a celebrity cameo as an Italian countess.

He misses nothing, and what he sees is a world defiled by industrialisation and cold human indifference. There can be no happy ending for an innocent such as he.

Hot take: The whole of humanity is reflected through soulful animal eyes in this simple yet profound, and profoundly moving, fable.

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