Gabrielle Marceau is a Toronto-based writer, film critic, editor and instructor. She writes film and pop culture criticism as well as poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in Cinemascope, Sight and Sound, Reverse Shot and Leste magazine. And she has written adversely of Women Talking, which was adapted and directed by a fellow Toronto person and Canadian Sarah Polley. This strikes me as significant.

Excerpt: “True to its title, the film is chock-full of conversations — moral, practical, theological — that feel, more often than not, formulaic and dry. The characters are not simply mouthpieces for different sides of an argument, but neither are they fully realized.

“They are Salome (Claire Foy) and Mariche (Jesse Buckley), voicing righteous, satisfying anger; Greta (Sheila McCarthy) and Agata (Judith Ivey), interjecting with wisdom and pragmatism; two young girls whose presence reminds us of what’s at stake; and Ona (Rooney Mara), the philosopher, who turns their arguments over and over in her soliloquies, until they are smoothed into benevolent sentiment. If there were a main character, it would be Ona; but her equanimity is frustrating, and her monologuing perhaps the most jarringly monologue-like of the cast.

“The performances are hindered by an approach to storytelling that is literal to the point of obnoxious. (A prime example: over a character’s rhapsodic plea that the community’s young teenage boys be allowed to go with the women should they leave, we see dreamy shots of boys playing in the fields and chatting warmly.)

“The film feels suspended in an unreal world, an effect only heightened by the inexplicable blue tint of the cinematography and the tedious shots of empty church pews and silent kitchens. And though the film is based on a real story — for her 2018 novel of the same name, Miriam Toews was inspired by a Mennonite community in Bolivia where over a hundred women reported being assaulted by men in the community — it cannot transcend the inherent artificiality of allegory.

“[Women Talking] feels as isolated from its real-world analogue — the #MeToo movement and the revelations of sexual misconduct in the film industry — as the colony is from the outside world.”