Saturday, February 25, 2023



writer/director Charlotte Wells

Wells with actor Paul Mescal

Wells with actors Paul Mescal and Frankie Coro

Wells on vacation with her father as a child


AFTERSUN               B+                                                                                                          Great Britain  USA  (102 mi)  2022  d: Charlotte Wells

There’s a feeling that when you leave where you are from that you don’t totally belong there again.    —Calum (Paul Mescal) responds to Sophie’s question asking if he would ever return to Scotland 

Listed at # 1 from The 50 best films of 2022 | Sight and Sound - BFI, #1 from The 25 Best Movies of 2022 | IndieWire, #2 from The 10 Best Movies of 2022 | TIME, and #3 from Best Films of 2022 - Film Comment, the film premiered with an 8:30 am screening at Cannes with the director introducing her film by describing it as “all of my dreams, my past and present, my hopes, fears and ambitions on a 50-foot screen,” given a two-minute standing ovation afterwards, winning the Jury Prize in Critics’ Week, and has had a profound effect on audiences since then, receiving near universal praise, becoming something of a film festival favorite.  Born in Edinburgh, Scotland with a Masters from Oxford, Wells attended the NYU film school with the intentions of becoming a producer, yet she was inspired by the largely independent filmmakers she discovered, a literal potpourri of international cinema, like Jacques Audiard, Alejandro González Iñarritu, the Dardenne brothers, Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold, Edward Yang, Wong Kar-wai, Kelly Reichardt, or Claire Denis, where her short films caught the eye of Adele Romanski, one of the partners of the Barry Jenkins production company Pastel, which ushered this film into the festival circuit, drawing parallels with Jenkins own film 2016 Top Ten List #1 Moonlight, as both are evocative looks at adolescents coming to terms with the adult world.  Expressions of a very personalized style of filmmaking, this moody, coming-of-age film exists almost exclusively in the attentive mindset of a bubbly 11-year old child, Sophie (Frankie Coro, a revelation who steals the show), seen on a sun-drenched summer vacation during the late 1990’s with her father Calum, Paul Mescal, from Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (2022), becoming a father-daughter drama largely told through camcorder recordings, continually capturing moments that they spent together in Ölüdeniz, part of the turquoise coast of Southwestern Turkey where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean Sea, and at one point, completely out of the blue, she remarks, “I think it’s nice that we share the same sky.”  A riff on Éric Rohmer’s A Summer's Tale (Conte d'été) (1996) or Sofia Coppola’s fractured father-daughter exposé Somewhere (2010), the oblique narrative style unfolds in an impressionist mosaic of the passing of time, blending real-time experiences with video footage, which can obscure certain underlying details that come into play, which a young child might not have noticed, instead reflecting her rather scatterbrained view of the world, where she is largely the center of the universe, yet it’s also an age when you start to see your parents differently than before.  Ostensibly a subjective memory piece, the kind of film that probably took a lifetime to make, an essential underlying component is how time reconfigures memory with a deceptive power.  Expressed through a series of flashback recollections which have shifted over time, viewed differently as one matures, Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) is seen twenty years later looking back at the video footage with adult eyes, seeing things she was completely unaware of at the time, where haunting and even disturbing emotional patterns exist under the surface, revealing her father to be much more troubled than she suspected, shrouded under a dark shadow of melancholy, perhaps hoping to fill the existential void by bringing along books on meditation and Tai Chi, including Scottish poet and filmmaker Margaret Tait, where one can find traces of BLUE BLACK PERMANENT (1992).  A repeated glimpse of paragliders over the bay conveys the notion of freedom that is as possible as it is impossible.  Shot on 35mm by cinematographer Gregory Oke, who she met at film school, also bringing along another fellow student in editor Blair McClendon, both of whom are intrinsically linked to the overall style of the film, resembling the visual poetry of Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s MORVERN CALLAR (2002), an exquisitely crafted montage of a film, and a haunting expression of grief and personal loss, as these same elements creep into this film as well, with a pronounced influence from the snapshot images of Ramsay’s short film GASMAN (1997), Lynne Ramsay's 1970s Christmas in Scotland - YouTube (14:18), a fascinating glimpse at how parents play a role in shaping the identity of their children.  Thematically, this may actually evolve out of her first NYU student short, a wonderfully sensual expression of personal loss that similarly leaves out pertinent details, Tuesday - Charlotte Wells (2015), YouTube (11:04).

While the film is intensely personal, Wells has had to fend off suggestions that it is autobiographical, contending it is a work of fiction, though it plays out onscreen like the recorded diary of Sophie’s observations, where it becomes difficult to decipher whether we are watching things as they happened or how they are being remembered.  Speaking personally, one major turnoff is the selfie-like obsession with taking pictures of themselves, something that the social media age has also become obsessed with, exhibiting a kind of narcissistic, self-flattery that some may find off-putting, though camcorders were definitely all the rage in the 1990's, previously explored in Super 8 (2011), the J. J. Abrams tribute to Spielberg, where the playfulness of kids also intermingles with the darker world of adults.  Everything in the film is seen from the point of view of Sophie, reflecting things she’s most interested in, not only moments shared with her Dad, but also her budding sexuality, aroused by a curiosity at being with older teens around her who drink and flirt, while the images of her father always find him partially obscured or out of view, where these reflections also reveal her perspective, where something about him is always missing or concealed.  Looking back at the video footage, what the older Sophie is looking for are clues of his own narrative, like acknowledging he was a neglected child, and never felt comfortable in his own skin, dreaming of a larger house outside London where Sophie could have her own room, yet he inevitably struggled with financial difficulties, but did not want Sophie to think less of him as a father, leaving her with an overriding sense of guilt that she was unable to read the tea leaves at the time, and that her father had to protect her from his darker impulses.  The seaside resort where they’re staying seems centered around the pool, viewed as a kind of vacationer’s paradise with plenty of activities, including scuba diving and sea excursions, which all must seem enthralling in the eyes of a young child, but we also notice the resort itself is rather run-down, with construction work taking place on the premises, more reminiscent of an amusement park, an artificially constructed illusory world, yet this packaged holiday catering to British tourism is probably typical of what Europeans encounter when booking vacations in exotic locales, as it’s hardly upscale, with plenty of Brits hanging around the pool, establishing their own community away from home where everyone mysteriously speaks English.  Her Dad encourages her to introduce herself to other kids, but neither one socializes that much, keeping to themselves, and when they do branch out it’s often met with an unexpected resistance, as the boys playing water polo pretty much ignore Sophie, where she’s lost on an island with nowhere to go.  Yet when left on her own, she’s amazingly resilient, establishing a rapport with another boy at a game arcade, while Calum appears more distressed in his time alone, reduced to tears from inexplicable circumstances, where the film never delves into their family background other than to indicate Sophie lives with her mother in Scotland, while Calum resides in London, with Sophie harboring a wish that they’d be reunited.  Calum practices Tai Chi to help keep his mercurial emotions in check, often swaying to his own internal rhythms that Sophie finds amusing, while we also see them applying sunscreen by the pool, filming each other underwater, or take on a few teenage boys playing pool, Aftersun | I'm Her Dad Though, Actually | Official Clip HD | A24 YouTube (53 seconds).  Anyone who has witnessed single fathers on holiday with separated children will recognize the sadness that exists even in the fun, often appearing awkward, trying a little bit too hard to forge genuine connections while masking their real feelings, as they simply don’t see them as often as they’d like, left in an emotional limbo.  For the most part they look happy and content, developing an easy rapport, yet an underlying sense of dread often intrudes, where you sense something terrible is about to happen, using the conventions of horror films, like when Sophie loses an expensive diving mask and Calum heads into the deep after it, unsuccessfully, regretting her mistake immediately, or when he goes scuba diving and Sophie stares at the water’s placid surface waiting for him to come up, where we have no sense of time, or how long she’s been waiting, or even if he’ll ever come up.  These moments are more suggestive than real, and may have a more profound effect on viewers than it did to either of them at the time, yet this element is carefully interwoven into the film. 

Part of the beauty of the film is the ambiguity involved, how it is layered in subtexts, creating a quiet unease even as there are wandering shots of sunny relaxation, with our pair of protagonists drifting in the enjoyment of spending time together, where over a relatively short period of time we get to know them well, yet one can’t help but be struck by how there’s no lengthy conversations, probably the shortest of any film in recent memory, typically reduced to ten words or less, which can be weirdly disaffecting, yet this may reflect a hidden anxiety and how emotionally guarded Calum is.  As the older Sophie looks back at these memories, she’s caught up in the fact that something’s missing, something she undoubtedly failed to comprehend as it was happening, yet that adds to the abstraction of the film, as there are missing pieces, suggesting memories change over time, and that there’s no definitive understanding, only clues that can be deciphered in completely different ways.  This disorientation is telegraphed by the style of the film itself, jumping back and forth in time, edited with an exquisitely constructed style that intentionally leaves out certain information, becoming a puzzle piece viewers have to navigate on their own.  One thing we never question is the closeness of the characters, as the love on display is unequivocal, yet their inner lives unfold in mysterious ways, as Calum is clearly unhappy with himself, where impoverished is too harsh a word, but he’s unable to provide for his daughter in a way he’d like, probably blaming himself, finding themselves second-class guests in an all-inclusive resort where others are more economically privileged, and while this is clearly a factor in their lives (we see them skip out of a dinner bill), it becomes glaringly exposed in a pivotal moment.  Sophie wants them to go onstage to sing karaoke together in front of the guests in the audience, but Calum doesn’t feel confident enough to sing publicly, and maybe he’s already had too much to drink, so she angrily defies his reticence and rushes onstage, hoping he would join her, singing an off-key yet heartbreaking version of R.E.M,’s Losing My Religion that feels excruciating and tortuous, as her once invigorated spirit is crushed by a wave of self-consciousness, yet there’s no turning back, Losing My Religion - Aftersun (2022) YouTube (2:15).  Something about the performance triggers an emotional response from Calum, with the song itself hinting at his state of mind, yet it’s very subtle and hard to read, as if realizing for the first time that things may never be the same.  Afterwards, when he offers to pay for singing lessons, if she wants, an already upset Sophie grows indignant, offended that he’s inferring she’s a terrible singer, which he denies, but then angrily hits him where it hurts, “Stop offering to pay for something when I know you don’t have the money!”  Stunned by the remark, Calum is utterly devastated, returning back to the room alone, and what follows only adds to the perplexing intrigue of the film, with Calum seen striding across the beach at night, stepping directly into the waves totally dressed, where we quickly lose sight of him as the sound of the waves dramatically increases, making it seem like the waves have completely consumed him, as we’re left with an extended shot of endlessly lapping waves, reminiscent of Sterling Hayden in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973) or Bruce Dern in Hal Ashby’s COMING HOME (1978).  Uncertainty is a crucial element built into the film, reflecting Sophie’s own uncertainties about herself, as she’s still growing into herself, on the cusp of adolescence, yet still a child, where the film is really her film, and even as she studies this footage years later, trying to piece together her own memories with what the camcorder reveals, something still eludes her, and will likely haunt her for the rest of her life.  The most emotionally gripping moment comes near the end from a dance sequence set to the Freddie Mercury and David Bowie version of Under Pressure, Aftersun (2022) - Last Dance / "Under Pressure" Scene 4k YouTube (3:01), which transitions into strobe-lit footage from a crowded club, where you notice a time alteration from the change in his attire, so this is clearly not in sequence, yet it plays out this way in her mind, where the oscillation effect obscures what we see, becoming a masterclass of film editing that is perfectly in sync with the music and lyrics, with images fading into and out of the light, suggesting the truth that she’s seeking will never be illuminated.  With the discovery that a door has closed that won’t ever open again (the director’s own father died when she was a teenager), the film reveals how memory and cinema are inextricably linked, while also reflecting Sophie’s own emotional journey, where love and happiness are mixed with grief and frustration, and the pain of lost time.

Laps - Charlotte Wells  short student film, 2017, YouTube (5:51)

Blue Christmas - Charlotte Wells  final short student film, 2017, YouTube (15:24)

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Women Talking


Director Sarah Polley

Polley as a child

the director on the set

Polley with Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, and Claire Foy

novelist Miriam Toews

Toews as an actress in Reygadas SILENT LIGHT (2007)

WOMEN TALKING             A                                                                                                    USA  (104 mi)  2022  ‘Scope  d: Sarah Polley

What follows is an act of female imagination.             —opening title card

It’s been a decade since Polley’s last film, having begun her career as a child actor at the age of 7 on Canadian television, while later appearing in Atom Egoyan’s heartbreaking The Sweet Hereafter (1997) before venturing into directing as a young adult with films that are always compassionate and female-centric, exploring the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease on a still vital middle-aged woman in Away from Her (2006), a marital breakup through the eyes of a young woman in Take This Waltz (2011), and an autiobiographical experimental memory play in Stories We Tell (2012).  Not sure what explains the gap, with something similar happening to Todd Field, both returning with a vengeance, making films that may well be the culmination of their entire careers.  Actors before they became filmmakers, they each bring something tonally quite different, yet both make films that accentuate the performances, where this is a thoroughly captivating ensemble piece that almost exclusively features women, adapting the work of Miriam Toews, who grew up in a remote Canadian Mennonite community which she chose to leave at 18, starring as the wife of a philandering husband in Carlos Reygadas’ SILENT LIGHT (2007), something inconceivable within the strictly ordered Mennonite community in Mexico, the first ever feature film in the Mennonite dialect of Plautdietsch.  When she was thirty four, her father killed himself.  Twelve years later her older sister did the same.  Her 2001 work Swing Low is a memoir to her father, while her 2014 novel All My Puny Sorrows is a tribute to her sister, so her novels acquaint the readers with themes of death and suicide, exuding tenderness, while also instilling a surprising amount of humor and hope.  Her 2018 novel Women Talking is her seventh, described as “a reaction through fiction” to the true-life events that took place on the Manitoba Colony, an ultraconservative remote Mennonite community in Bolivia.  Mennonites number about two million worldwide, traditionally living like the Amish, keeping themselves at a strict remove from the sinful world, living without electricity, cars, or phones, making their living from farming.  Women wear coverings or prayer veils on their heads at all times and dress plainly, wearing conservative clothing with no make-up or jewelry, while men are mainly seen in overalls.  Their first language is Plautdietsch, or Low German, an archaic unwritten dialect that dates back to the 16th century, driven out of the Netherlands during the Protestant Reformation, moving to the Prussian and Russian empires, eventually to Canada, Mexico, and South America.  Between 2005 and 2009 over a hundred women and children in the Bolivian colony woke up to discover they had been raped in their sleep by the men in their community, often brothers, husbands, and fathers, having secretly been put to sleep by a sprayed animal tranquilizer in their houses as they slept, sedating entire households.  It took them five years to understand what was happening, because they had almost no memory of the assaults, but would regularly wake in the morning in pain, bruised, with blood and semen on their bodies and in their beds.  Mennonite women are traditionally expected to be virgins before marriage, so many of them felt tainted afterwards, fearing they may be denied entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  The male leaders of the community attributed the attacks to ghosts and demons, with some arguing they were being punished by God for their sins, while others were inclined to believe the women’s “wild, female imaginations” invented the stories.  Historically women do not have a voice in these closed communities, forbidden from reading or writing, or attending school, a practice that was only allowed for boys, following a patriarchal doctrine of Christianity that can be read as a system of domination, where men have exclusive authoritative control, with women traditionally taught to believe in the sexist and misogynist teachings of the male religious leadership that women are meant to serve the needs of the men.  While the victims included the elderly, disabled, and even young infants, they could not access trauma therapy or counseling in Bolivia, as they had no Spanish fluency, unable to speak the language of the country where they reside, remaining illiterate in every respect, yet the Manitoban leaders refused to acknowledge any services were even needed, so even after some of the men were prosecuted and sent to jail, the rapes reportedly continued, where the danger of being re-attacked, silenced, or coerced afterwards remains an ongoing reality.  According to Toews, “My anger toward my Mennonite community and my love for it go hand in hand…I’ve seen first-hand the harm done by fundamentalism, how the male elders are using the arbitrary rules that they’ve extrapolated from scripture to maintain control.”  Nonetheless, it wasn’t until June 2018 that the office of Women in Leadership for the Mennonite Church held an organizational conference on “dismantling the patriarchy.”  Toews apparently had only Sarah Polley in mind when it came to adapting her work, with few changes, making no reference to the actual incident, while clearly placing this within an American Mennonite setting, actually elevating the material into a fictitiously imagined fable.  Taking us on a momentous journey that some might describe as groundbreaking, this is an uncompromising morality tale, where its distinctive telling has its own mythical power, as if reaching into the subconscious, not so much attacking patriarchy as illuminating matriarchy, delivering an inspiring feminist message, daring to dream of something better, never crossing the line of disrespect and offense to the opposite sex, making it clear that not all men are evil, as evidenced by the one man in the film whose empathy is key, offering hope that the future may be different, basically unlearning generational systems of oppression.  Miriam Toews acknowledged her novel was written as “a form of prayer, a form of solidarity,” Miriam Toews on What Forgiveness Means in the #MeToo Era. 

Even after the exposure of this horrific incident, the male leadership hoped to hide all this from the secular world and continued to expect women to maintain their silence, contending it’s God’s will to forgive and put this behind them, as otherwise they would be refused admittance into the kingdom of heaven, encouraging a theology of obedience that follows the example of the sacrificial love of Christ, ostensibly ascribing to pacifism.  In Genesis, the Lord says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” while the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord,” male-dominated views that were largely held as gospel until challenged in the 60’s by the Women’s Movement, yet any flexibility has not been transferable to these isolated religious communities.  In the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, for instance, women continue to suffer rampant sexual violence at the hands of their community’s men (FLDS Fast Facts | CNN).  Looking at reviews of this film, one quickly realizes how radically different women view rape than men, many writing long and impassioned reviews, resonating more deeply, viewing this as an absolutely essential work, while men for the most part view this as just another movie, reminiscent of the largely ignored Kirby Dick exposé, 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: # 5 The Invisible War, which exposed a widespread yet equally overlooked culture of rape in the American military.  The film has an intriguing narrative structure, with a young girl telling the story to an unborn child, emulating a similar style from Julie Dash’s iconic work Daughters of the Dust (1991), where one of the biggest surprises in that film is the narration from an unborn child, whose spirit makes its presence, while here it fluctuates between an adult and child perspective, weaving in and out both voices, exploring what the women in these imaginary colonies might have talked about after the rapes occurred, and more importantly what action to take, as they could do nothing, stay and fight, or leave the colony for good.  Having just 24-hours while the men are away posting bail for the rapists, the women retreat to the hayloft of a barn and conduct a vote by placing an X, which ends up split, ignoring the first option, as nothing could be more intolerable than reliving what they already experienced.  On behalf of the other women of the colony, eight women from two prominent families are selected to decide how to react to these traumatic events, two grandmothers, four daughters, and two young grandchildren, all related, as are most people within the colony, resembling a truth and reconciliation committee examining war crimes, like Abderrahmane Sissako’s film BAMAKO (2006), as they take breaks to eat, pray, sing hymns, comfort each other, and tend to their children.  All of them have been raped multiple times, opening with a ritual cleansing, gently washing one another’s feet before a Socratic debate ensues, attempting to speak about the unspeakable, unleashing a fury of emotions as they discuss the remaining two options, at times tender towards one another while also bitterly antagonistic, offering a full range of opinions while sitting in milk buckets or bales of hay, braiding each other’s hair, or lighting cigarettes, dreading the moment the men return.  Paralyzed with anger, each of the women demonstrate unique personal responses as they address complex issues of trauma, reconciliation with the past, and the freedom to move on to a brighter future, where they are forced to contemplate troublesome issues of forgiveness, how they will be viewed in the eyes of God, and what future they can provide for their children, where one idea that resonates is “Forgiveness can sometimes be misconstrued as permission.”  Raging at men and God, they debate matters of religion and identity, while a lone male, August Epps (Ben Whishaw, perhaps a reference to St. Augustine), has been enlisted to take the notes, as the women can neither read nor write, yet they believe in the importance of archiving the historical nature of the event.  August is viewed differently than the other men, as he actually left the community along with his mother, who was excommunicated after a failed attempt to challenge the prevailing order, so he traveled to other countries, received a college degree, and returned recently to teach the children, viewed by the men as too frail to do field work.  The impressive ensemble cast offers emotionally shattering performances, including Scarface Janz (Frances McDormand, one of the producers, appearing only briefly), a domineering matriarch with two silently obedient daughters, the only one adamant about her decision to do nothing, firmly believing any other option will condemn the women to hell, “We will be forced to leave the colony if we don’t forgive the men and/or accept their apologies, and through the process of this excommunication we will forfeit our place in heaven.”  Agata Friesen (Judith Ivey, two-time Tony Award winner) is a calmly reassuring matriarch, emotionally torn by two daughters who have very different opinions about what to do, Ona (Rooney Mara), her oldest pregnant daughter, curious and open-minded, believing female empowerment may only happen if they leave, Salome (Claire Foy), a volcanic force, angry and outspoken, who wants to stay and fight the men, “I will burn in hell before I allow another man to satisfy his urges with the body of my 4-year-old daughter!” (seen attempting to kill one of the imprisoned perpetrators with a scythe), and Neitje (Liv McNeil), Agata’s teenage granddaughter, raised by Salome because Neitje’s mother Mina (the younger sister of Ona and Salome) committed suicide after Neitje was raped.  Greta Loewen (Sheila McCarthy, one of Canada’s most decorated performers) is a soft-spoken matriarch displaying lightness and wisdom, with a fondness for her two horses Ruth and Cheryl, with two children, Mariche (Jessie Buckley), the oldest, married to a brutally violent man, continually forced to forgive his abusive behavior, causing her to be cynical and sarcastic, wanting to stay, but remains skeptical that the women could win a fight against the men, Mejal (Michelle McLeod), the younger daughter accused of calling attention to herself and being rebellious because she smokes cigarettes, and Autje (Kate Hallett), Mariche’s 13-year old daughter, who is also the narrator speaking to Ona’s child born in the future, and best friend of Neitje, both always seen at each other’s side, at one point amusingly heard correcting her elders on the correct use of “fuck off.”

Delivering long, uninterrupted monologues, the collective voices are expressed like the confessional Dylan Thomas radio play Under Milk Wood, where we hear the innermost thoughts of the characters, becoming poetic reflections on the cost of freedom, asking what price each is willing to pay, with some, led by Salome, wanting to stay and fight the men, fueled by a drive to seek revenge, eying their opportunity to face those criminals and drive them out of the colony, as nothing is more sacred than the protection of their families and their homes, knowing there will be no peace until they are banished and exiled, thinking the women can now demand new rules for the colony, such as the right to be educated and to be treated equally, where perhaps a new trust can be established.  While religion and equality never seem to go together, we are struck by the knowledge that the women do not know there are names for the ideas they are formulating.  Interpreting scripture for perhaps the first time, an exasperated Solome ponders their fate, “By leaving, we are not necessarily disobeying the men according to the Bible because we, the women, do not know exactly what is in the Bible, being unable to read it… we need to submit to our husbands because our husbands have told us that the Bible decrees it.”  Ona sees a larger picture, but struggles to imagine life outside the colony, where men and women will collectively make all the decisions, where girls will be taught to read and write, and be allowed to think, yet she knows their children can only be safe in a completely new environment, as this one is no longer salvageable, having been ruined by the actions of the men, who not only devalued but defiled the women, where their crimes are unsalvageable and unredeemable, as there’s no going back to that unspeakable culture of violence.  Uttered with the authenticity of a stage play, these voices resound with a personal urgency, where there’s no denying the eruption of fomented anger, incited by crimes against humanity, where they have to think of themselves now, separate from the authority of the men, where venturing into the unknown is what awaits them now, not knowing what to expect, not knowing where they’re going, unable to even speak the language of the surrounding communities, or read a map, yet they’re consumed by a need to start anew somewhere else, as only that course of action allows for a rebirth of personal conviction and love.  It’s an extraordinary morality play fed by an undeniable need to atone for someone else’s sins, as they refuse to place themselves in a position to be victimized by the same criminal behavior, as that’s literally a hell on earth, and instead seek their own hallowed refuge of peace, where the women will need to think for themselves and face their own challenges.  They dream of new religions and new societies, where human dignity is sacred and women’s intellects can flourish.  The violence they endured did not sever them from their identities quite so much as it catalyzed a collective reconsideration of what they wanted their identities to mean.  There are moments of humor mixed with stinging personal accusations, where it can be a hornet’s nest of enraged fury, with Greta using her beloved horses as an allegorical guide, contending “We have been preyed upon like animals, maybe we should respond like animals,” WOMEN TALKING | “Ruth and Cheryl” Official Clip YouTube (50 seconds).  Among the more inexplicable moments is the use of a popular 60’s song by the Monkees heard over a loudspeaker coming from the truck of a census worker reminding them to take the 2010 census, The Monkees - Daydream Believer (Official Music Video) YouTube (2:46), arousing a different kind of sentiment, as most flee in fear from the invader, the traditional response, wanting no contact with the outside world, yet Neitje and Autje run to the truck with an enthusiastic curiosity, as if discovering the New World, and engage in a spirited conversation with the driver.  The other modern twist is the use of a transgender teenager named Nettie (August Winter, non-binary in real life), who was raped, possibly by her brother, gave birth prematurely, and now speaks only to children, preferring to go by the name of Melvin, looking and dressing like a boy, assuming the role of looking after the children, where trust is an overriding factor, with no one denying the innocence of this character, who hasn’t a harmful bone in his body.  His interaction with the others is a central component of the film, as there must be a place for his future as well.  Another unspoken aspect is the closeness of Ona with August, who has been in love with her for years, but she defers, devouring every new piece of information she can learn from him, like an insatiable sponge, soaking it all in as if feeding her soul with knowledge, where in a performance that seemingly anchors the film, her enrichment becomes a humanistic metaphor for the future possibilities, WOMEN TALKING | “Doesn’t Matter What I Think” Official Clip YouTube (47 seconds).  Luc Montpellier’s brown-tinged, ultra-widescreen cinematography dulls the existence of brighter colors, reflecting the drab existence that the women have experienced for far too long, while the unobtrusive yet psychologically intense musical score written by Hildur Guðnadóttir mixed with some familiar religious hymns provide a vehicle of hope.  In 2017, Sarah Polley published an opinion piece in The New York Times about her eerie encounter with Harvey Weinstein, and about a year ago she published a collection of autobiographical essays entitled Run Towards the Danger, where in one harrowing chapter, The Woman Who Stayed Silent, she recounts a sexual assault by disgraced Canadian television personality and writer Jian Ghomeshi on a date when she was sixteen and he was twenty-eight, where her horrific experience of torture and rape echoes what his other victims experienced, revealing an inexpressible brokenness of the human spirit.  Vice News reported in 2013 that women in the Manitoba Colony spoke of ongoing sexual assaults even after the arrests, and while there never was a vote, they did speak about their lives, hoping for a change, but the men simply did not listen.  This is a showcase for powerhouse acting, a moving and inspirational film with extraordinary ambition where Sarah Polley forces all of us to pay attention and listen, as it begs the question, how do we keep letting this happen?

Opinion | Sarah Polley: The Men You Meet Making Movies  Sarah Polley from The New York Times, October 14, 2017

One day, when I was 19 years old, I was in the middle of a photo shoot for a Miramax film when I was suddenly told it was time to leave. I was wearing a little black dress, showing a lot of cleavage, lying seductively on my side and looking slyly at the camera. The part I had played in the movie, “Guinevere,” could not have been more removed from this pose. My character was an awkward girl, bumbling, in fact, who wore sweatshirts and jeans, and had little sense of her sexual power. But this was how they were going to sell the movie, and at a certain point, I was tired of being a problem, which is how a female actor is invariably treated whenever she points out that she is being objectified or not respected.

I was pulled out of the photo shoot abruptly. The publicist said that we needed to be in Harvey Weinstein’s office in 20 minutes.

“Are we done here?” I asked. “No” was the answer. “But Harvey wants you there now.”

In the taxi, the publicist looked at me and said: “I’m going in with you. And I’m not leaving your side.” I knew everything I needed to know in that moment, and I was grateful.

When I got there, Mr. Weinstein wasted no time. He told me, in front of the publicist and a co-worker beside him, that a famous star, a few years my senior, had once sat across from him in the chair I was in now. Because of his “very close relationship” with this actress, she had gone on to play leading roles and win awards. If he and I had that kind of “close relationship,” I could have a similar career. “That’s how it works,” I remember him telling me. The implication wasn’t subtle. I replied that I wasn’t very ambitious or interested in acting, which was true. He then asked me about my political activism and went on to recast himself as a left-wing activist, which was among the funniest things I’d ever heard.

I indicated that he was wasting his time. We probably wouldn’t be friends or have a “close relationship.” I just didn’t care that much about an acting career. I loved acting, still do, but I knew, after 14 years of working professionally, that it wasn’t worth it to me, and the reasons were not unconnected to the tone of that meeting almost 20 years ago.

On sets, I saw women constantly pressured to exploit their sexuality and then chastised as sluts for doing so. Women in technical jobs were almost nonexistent, and when they were there, they were constantly being tested to see if they really knew what they were doing. You felt alone, in a sea of men. I noticed my own tendency to want to be “one of the boys,” to distance myself from the humiliation of being a woman on a film set, where there were so few of us. Then came the photo shoots in which you were treated like a model with no other function than to sell your sexuality, regardless of the nature of the film you were promoting.

I’ve often wondered how I would have behaved in the meeting with Harvey Weinstein had I been more ambitious as an actor. I was sitting in front of a man who wielded enormous power. If you were interested in being in movies directed by interesting filmmakers, he wasn’t someone you wanted to alienate. How would one have left that meeting, or those hotel rooms, which have been described by others, with that relationship intact, when he displayed such entitlement and was famous for such anger? I was purely lucky that I didn’t care.

Shortly afterward, I started writing and directing short films. I had no idea, until then, how little respect I had been shown as an actor. Now there were no assistant directors trying to cajole me into sitting on their laps, no groups of men standing around to assess how I looked in a particular piece of clothing. I could decide what I felt was important to say, how to film a woman, without her sexuality being a central focus without context. In my mid-20s, I made my first feature film, “Away From Her.”

While working on “Away From Her,” I had the privilege of working with Julie Christie, who, while maintaining her vision for her character, was deeply committed to collaboration and could shift her performance on a dime when given direction. It was an amazing gift for a director, still learning the ropes. I realized that in the past, whether I’d known it or not, some part of me had been afraid of direction. I vowed to go back to acting with my newfound understanding of collaboration. I would be more pliable. I was excited to give my whole, unfettered self to a director, the way Julie Christie had done for me.

But I had forgotten a key ingredient of the acting process. Most directors are insensitive men. And while I’ve met quite a few humane, kind, sensitive male directors and producers in my life, sadly they are the exception and not the rule. This industry doesn’t tend to attract the most gentle and principled among us. I had two experiences in the same year in which I went into a film as an actor with an open heart and was humiliated, violated, dismissed and then, in one instance, called overly sensitive when I complained. One producer, when I mentioned I didn’t feel a rape scene was being handled sensitively, barked that Dakota Fanning had done a rape scene when she was 12 — “And she’s fine!” A debatable conjecture, surely.

I’m not naming names in all of these instances. And that invites criticism for some reason. Which is funny, because when women do name names, they are criticized for that, too. There’s no one right way to do any of this. In your own time, on your own terms, is a notion I cling to, when it comes to talking about experiences of powerlessness.

I haven’t acted for almost 10 years now. Lately I’ve thought of trying to rediscover what once made it seem worthwhile. It’s a beautiful job, after all, built on empathy and human connection, and it seems strange to turn your back on something you did for so long. But for a long time, I felt that it wasn’t worth it to me to open my heart and make myself so vulnerable in an industry that makes its disdain for women evident everywhere I turn.

Several years ago, I approached a couple of successful female actors in Hollywood about an idea I had for a comedy project: We would write, direct and star in a short film about the craziest, worst experience we’d ever had on a set. We told our stories to one another, thinking they would be hysterically funny. We were full of zeal for this project. But the stories, when we told them, left us in tears and bewildered at how casually we had taken these horror stories and tried to make them into comedy. They were stories of assault. When they were spoken out loud, it was impossible to reframe them any other way. This is how we’d normalized the trauma, tried to integrate it, by making comedy out of it. We abandoned the film, but not the project of unearthing the weight of these stories, which we’d previously hidden from ourselves.

Harvey Weinstein may be the central-casting version of a Hollywood predator, but he was just one festering pustule in a diseased industry. The only thing that shocked most people in the film industry about the Harvey Weinstein story was that suddenly, for some reason, people seemed to care. That knowledge alone allowed a lot of us to breathe for the first time in ages.

Here is an unsettling problem that I am left with now: Like so many, I knew about him. And not just from my comparatively tame meeting with him. For years, I heard the horrible stories that are now chilling so many people to their core. Like so many, I didn’t know what to do with all of it. I’ve grown up in this industry, surrounded by predatory behavior, and the idea of making people care about it seemed as distant an ambition as pulling the sun out of the sky.

I want to believe that the intense wave of disgust at this sort of behavior will lead to real change. I have to think that many people in high places will be a little more careful. But I hope that when this moment of noisy sisterhood dissipates, it doesn’t end with a woman in a courtroom, being made to look crazy, as these stories so often do.

I hope that the ways in which women are degraded, both obvious and subtle, begin to seem like a thing of the past.

For that to happen, I think we need to look at what scares us the most. We need to look at ourselves. What have we been willing to accept, out of fear, helplessness, a sense that things can’t be changed? What else are we turning a blind eye to, in all aspects of our lives? What else have we accepted that, somewhere within us, we know is deeply unacceptable? And what, now, will we do about it?