Sarah Polley went from a solid working actress to director-to-watch when she broke onto the scene with Away from Her. She proved not only to be competent director but deftly able to convey deep emotion in a personal way. Moving on to her fourth feature behind the camera Polley’s strengths are on full display leading to a powerful story led by an absolutely stacked cast that’s essentially a wish list of perfectly cast roles.
Centered on a group of Mennonite women holding a meeting that’s conclusion could mean the difference between life and death. These women, isolated in a colony in a remote area of Canada, who can neither read nor write, are talking amongst themselves about their future. The men of the colony have been repeatedly drugging the women and raping them, all women from the ages of 6 to 60. The women find themselves mostly alone and the reason why is brutally heartbreaking. when a man rapes a toddler, the girl’s mother attacks the rapist, and the colony’s men take him to a nearby city for his safety. There, he’s put under arrest, and the colony’s men go to bail him out. Now they have an opportunity to decide if they will do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.
The men have been keeping them secluded, uneducated, and controlled. The heartbreaking conversations they have about the various pros and cons of leaving or staying, while also wrestling with their spiritual convictions is emotionally charged and devastating.
The cast all shine, it’s a given that some of them will have nominations and wins during its awards run, the problem is figuring out who get the nominations. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Francis McDormand, Judith Ivey, Shiela McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, and Kate Hallett all lead this amazing ensemble with both fierceness and grace. Emotionally enough to reduce me to tears on more than one occasion, while also being disparate enough to have me laughing at times. For my money the two matriarchs in Ivey and McCarthy are the heart and soul of the film with career defining performances.
The film is hard to watch, but absolutely necessary. The sad truth is that this story is based on true events that happened in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia in 2009. The events are so evil and vile it’s hard to believe, but the controlling and gaslighting of women by men in power is an unfortunate reality. The world needs more stories like this, told with honesty and urgency and we are all the better for it.
4 out of 5 stars