“Women Talking” – Movie Review

Women Talking? Or Distorting? Second Thoughts On A Review.

Sheila O’Malley reviewed the film “Women Talking” for Roger Ebert’s website. Here Mike Garde re-reviews. Garde is the Director of Dialogue Ireland and happens to be a Mennonite.

Or some men acting very badly and some men acting very well. Courageous women and to the judiciary of Bolivia really putting bad guys behind bars for 25 years. 

Review: Just seen it and it is compelling. A good example of how a church should deal with crime. It shows a group which broke with stereotypes. The lesson was not for men but for all of us. It was good to see a man serving a group of women in the movie but he is psychologically castrated for artistic reasons to fit into a modern brief. Deep issues around the law, forgiveness, justice and fighting and flight…but It was a false flag operation.

It was very heavy going and puts your brain into fifth gear. On further reflection It was “too me too,” for me. Why? The truth is it was the male elders who brought the rapists to court and the women gave evidence. Firstly, normally in a Mennonite Colony here in Bolivia it would be German speaking so they would have very little contact with the local authorities. So the women who as the movie describes are really under male power are remarkable in what they ACTUALLY did. 

“The real-life facts are beyond horrifying. Between 2005 and 2009, 150 women and young girls were drugged and then raped by men in their secluded Mennonite community in Bolivia. The women would wake up having no idea what happened, but seeing blood on their sheets and legs, or noticing their underwear was missing. The age range of the victims spanned from 5 to 65. As we’ve seen in other closed religious systems, Mennonite communities normally handle such things in-house. But this time, the elders of the community (all men)—who got suspicious and decided to follow one of the men at night, thereby catching him in the act—reported the crime to the Bolivian authorities. The eventual trial, where the victims showed up to testify, was a sensation. Eight men were sentenced to 25 years in prison.”

Here in the movie the men are seen as the problem and consequently it distorts what happened. So the fictional options of 1.) Do nothing 2.) Stay and fight 3.) Leave the community were factually distorted options. 

Canadian author Miriam Toews, who grew up in a small Mennonite community in Manitoba, had a strong empathetic response to this story. “I could have been one of [those women],” she said in an interview. True but don’t identify with the wrong issue. 

“Her resulting book, 2018’s Women Talking, is not so much a recounting of those events, but an imaginative response to them.”

That is totally appropriate but here is what she actually did

“In her fictionalized version, ALL THE MEN OF THE COMMUNITY HEAD TO TOWN to put up bail for their arrested brethren. The women meet in the barn and discuss their options, boiled down to three: 1.) Do nothing 2.) Stay and fight 3.) Leave the community. “

Here the Guardian newspaper confirms what I have written:

“Mennonites traditionally handle crime and punishment themselves. But not this time. “This was way too big to deal with,” says Johann Klassen, a community elder. “That is why we handed these people to the Bolivian authorities. We don’t want them back.”

Klassen knew the suspects. “I thought I knew them quite well,” he says. “But I remember they were not hard workers.” He adds: “There was always talk about those things happening here; there was a woman who said so, but no one believed her.”

Some of the elders, including Klassen, became suspicious after they noticed that one of the men was getting up particularly late in the morning – Mennonites are devoted workers who start the day at sunrise – and followed him. They caught him about to break into a house. He then named seven other men. They were all locked up in a warehouse for a couple of days; there were suggestions that cells should be built, to keep them locked up for 15 years. Eventually the community’s council of elders decided to hand them to the police.”

Read the horrific story on the Guardian.com

By taking this position she totally undermines the narrative which has men taking the very courageous decision to support the women and bring them to an authority outside the perfection of Christ. This is profound when you realise how the main denominations have dealt with the sex abuse issue.

The women stayed , they took the battle to the courts. Some men were evil but against patriarchal assumptions of the community, the elders did what was right. In a world where churches cover up sexual crimes this a unique story but not the one the movie makes.

Here the film ends with the women going precisely nowhere. So instead of flight it becomes a muted leaving. The women set off to nowhere at the end and have a map and are helped how to travel north or South. This device is a bit pathetic as in the can work out directions but are directionless. There is no destination. It is therefore not a great movie as in reality the women were back safely in their community. My question is have they been approached with resources to grant significant counselling to the women and has the experience led to developments to bring education into the educational process.

Here in Ireland we have a Human potential and Messianic cult under Tony Quinn whose disciples found oil in a Mennonite Colony at Spanish Lookout in Belize. 

Dialogue Ireland – 3 February 2010
Dialogue Ireland – 9 May 2009

It has proved impossible to reach out to this community so hearing the true story of Bolivia was inspiring.

Suddenly in the midst this intense dialogue the Monkees song, True Believer breaks the silence of the film. Overall I would watch it but know it is a total fiction.

Read Sheila O’Malley’s review of “Women Talking”, that prompted this review, on Roger Ebert’s website.

“Women Talking” is in cinemas in Ireland from 10 February 2023. Check availability here.

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