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Tribune News Service
Katie Walsh

What to stream: 'Women Talking' and the best of Sarah Polley as actor, filmmaker

Sarah Polley’s Oscar-nominated film “Women Talking” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week, two weeks after its VOD debut on Amazon, iTunes and other platforms. It’s just in time to catch up with the drama before the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, where the film is nominated for best picture and Polley is nominated for best adapted screenplay.

“Women Talking” is Polley’s fourth feature film, and she adapted the screenplay from the 2018 book by Miriam Toews, a novel described as a “reaction through fiction” (the film is described as a “work of female imagination”). It’s based on events that took place from 2005 to 2009 on the Manitoba Colony, a Mennonite community in Bolivia. Women and girls were waking up to injuries from sexual assault with no memory of their attacks, and it was discovered that men from the colony were drugging and raping them at night.

In “Women Talking,” Toews, and then Polley, imagine a conversation between a group of the women from “the colony” who have to decide whether or not to do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. It unfolds over the course of about a day, when the attackers have been taken to jail by local authorities, and without the looming specter of the men in their community, the women debate their beliefs, experiences and fears, and ultimately come to a collective decision.

It’s a testament to Polley’s fantastic writing and direction and the caliber of the actresses, including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley, that this film about a group of people talking in a barn is as riveting as it is, and it is tremendously gripping. It is a moving and powerful examination of patriarchy and the way the most toxic elements are created, passed down and enabled in closed communities such as the colony, and it envisions a way out and a future for these women who have known no other life. It’s an incredibly worthy watch in any year. Rent it now on all platforms (or seek out the DVD/Blu-ray).

Polley, who has been working as an actress since childhood, has mostly devoted her career to writing and directing since her directorial debut, “Away From Her” in 2006. This sensitive drama about an older couple navigating their relationship after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is a startlingly assured and nuanced debut feature. Starring the legendary Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent and Olympia Dukakis, it announced Polley’s talent as a director right away. Stream it on Tubi, Kanopy and Mubi, or rent it elsewhere.

She followed that up in 2011 by swinging back to the early stages of marriage with the tender domestic drama “Take This Waltz,” starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman and Luke Kirby, as a quartet of young adults navigating their relationships with their spouses and others. Stream it on HBO Max, Kanopy, Tubi, Hulu or rent it elsewhere.

Polley pivoted to nonfiction in 2012 with the creative cinematic memoir “Stories We Tell,” telling the story of her own mother, and using her own family as the unreliable narrators of this story. Remarkably daring and bold, this documentary will make you look at nonfiction filmmaking and memoir in a whole new light. Stream it on Roku, Kanopy and Freevee or rent it elsewhere.

But before she was an Oscar nominated filmmaker, Polley was one of the coolest actors of ‘90s indie cinema, starring in Atom Egoyan’s 1997 film “The Sweet Hereafter” (streaming on Criterion Channel and Freevee), and opposite Katie Holmes and Timothy Olyphant in Doug Liman’s edgy Christmas Eve romp “Go” (rent it on all platforms). She’s also one of the most iconic zom-com queens in Zack Snyder’s excellent, bloody, ironic “Dawn of the Dead” remake (2004). Rent it on all digital platforms.

Polley also had a long career as a child actress in Canada, starring in the television series “Ramona” and “Road to Avonlea.” She also co-starred in Terry Gilliam’s fantastical “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” though her experiences on the set were deeply traumatic, as recounted in her 2022 memoir “Run Towards the Danger.” “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is available to rent on all platforms, though be sure to read her book, or essay in The Guardian about her experiences on that set in conjunction with your viewing.


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