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“What follows is an act of female imagination.”

The Oscar buzz around Sarah Polley’s new film may have you wondering why people are talking about “Women Talking.” You can find out for yourself at the Varsity Cinema, starting Friday, February 10. First, read a bit about how this seemingly simple story of women talking in a barn reveals itself to be a pensive, poignant reflection on the often-underestimated powers of female strength and solidarity.

Focusing on a group of women in a remote Mennonite colony who are tasked with deciding the fate of their sisters in the wake of tragedy, “Women Talking” takes place over the span of a very important 48 hours. A subset of the colony’s women must make the decision for the group to either leave the colony, stay and fight, or forgive the colony’s men who were recently discovered to have been drugging and sexually assaulting many of the women and girls in their sleep for years.

Like a modernized (yet not–the year is 2009 but you’d never guess it) “12 Angry Men,” the majority of the film takes place in one setting, where very different women must all come to a consensus before leaving. They discuss the pros and cons of each option they’re faced with, while dealing with themes of forgiveness, evil, and resilience.

The group is primarily led by three women: the antagonistic, outspoken Mariche (Jessie Buckley), the aloof Ona (Rooney Mara) and the tenacious Salome (Claire Foy) who is determined to do whatever it takes to protect her daughters. Featuring scene-stealers Ben Winshaw and Frances McDormand, impressive performances and a striking script paired with a stripped-down setting and story result in a thoughtfully poised film that consistently surprises, shocks, and saddens.

At its core, “Women Talking” is about a complex group of women deciding who they want to be. What makes the story so interesting is that these women have never had this choice before; they’ve never had a voice before. Suddenly, they’re tasked with finding their voice, using it and, somehow, trusting it. As Ona points out in the film, “When we have liberated ourselves, we will have to ask ourselves who we are,” and that’s exactly what these women are talking about.

Catch the Best Picture nominee ahead of this year’s Academy Awards, at the Varsity Cinema starting February 10.

— Kasey Dunifer

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