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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Sarah Polley
prd Frances McDormand, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner
with Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Frances McDormand, Shayla Brown, Kate Hallett, August Winter, Liv McNeil, Michelle McLeod
release US 23.Dec.22,
22/US Orion 1h44
TORONTO FILM FEST
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This remarkable drama centres around four generations of women as they grapple existentially with a horrific situation. Loosely based on a true story, it's darkly involving and inventively made by writer-director Sarah Polley, who uses artfully desaturated colours to create a timeless tone. It never panders to audiences who want to be entertained, keeping the focus on the earth-rattling journey these women take as they dare to say the unthinkable.
In an isolated Amish-style religious community, several men are arrested when they're discovered drugging and sexually assaulting the women. When the other men head to town to bail them out, the women gather in the hayloft. Prevented from learning how to read or write, they ask schoolteacher August (Whishaw) to document their discussion. Their decision is momentous: do they carry on as if nothing has happened, stay and fight, or leave? At first, they feel too uneducated to debate this, but as the discussion continues, they realise that they are smarter than they've been told.
Thankfully, Polley leaves violence off-screen, only occasionally showing its aftermath. This allows her to zero in on reactions that are complicated by religious requirements and deeply held beliefs, plus a culture of subservience and what are clearly lies men have been spinning about demonic attacks. As each of them, young and old, begins to discover the power of their own agency, they start to have opinions. So as a group, their decision-making process takes a series of surprising twists and turns.
Each actor creates a vivid character whose actions and responses are both challenging and moving for the audience. Among these compelling and magnetic women, the standout is Buckley as a fiery wife whose journey through the story is properly wrenching. McDormand also has an especially strong presence in a smaller role as a woman who goes against the grain. And Whishaw very nearly steals the show as the outsider looking in, offering astonishingly textured reactions that suggest and reveal underlying issues.
Naturally, with this subject matter and storytelling approach, the film isn't always easy to watch. The dialog requires alert attention from the viewer, as it shifts and flows, creating riveting story arcs for each of the characters. By the end, we care about them both individually and as a group, and even more importantly we understand the subtleties of their journey from submissiveness to self-determination. This is a bracingly inspirational film with a proper sense of urgency about a theme that's far bigger than what's happening on-screen.
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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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