Oscar-nominated, Canadian writer-director Sarah Polley has quickly become the star of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) with the premiere of her film Women Talking, based on the book by Miriam Toews, with an incredibly cast of women including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy and Michelle McLeod.
Women Talking is an incredibly emotional, affecting film that is set in a Mennonite colony, where the women have been told by the men that the culprits of regular, violent rapes were ghosts, demons, or even Satan. While the men of the colony are in the city, the women meet to discuss what they should do, forgive the men, stay and fight, or leave the colony, with the risk of being exiled from the kingdom of heaven.
At the Q&A following the film’s TIFF premiere screening, Judith Ivey stressed the beauty and rarity of being able to work on a film alongside women actors, with women in directing and producer roles as well
“It took me away from my home and my husband, who I dearly love, but it gave me so much I never expected to have,” she said. “One of the great gifts at my ripe old age is being in a project with nine beautiful women who are wonderful artists, directed by a wonderful female artist, produced by a beautiful female producer, and another female producer, and that's a rare, rare situation, unfortunately.”
It may not happen for me again in my career’s lifetime, but I hope it becomes the norm for all of these young women.Judith Ivey
With Polley leading the charge in Women Talking, patterns of women who have been isolated and silenced are approached with compassion, paired with expertly placed levity that shows the loving bond these women share, even in a violent and dangerous community.
Toews’ book was based on the horrific abuse that happened in a Mennonite community in Bolivia.
Where Polley did veer away from the book is in its narrator. The novel “Women Talking” is narrated by the character August, a male in the colony who is asked by the women to take the minutes of their meetings. In the film, it’s narrated, through voiceover, by a young girl, Autje (Kate Hallett).
“There are important reasons for the novel to be narrated by a man, it’s ‘Women Talking,’ it's men listening, learning, taking notes,” Toews at the premiere on Tuesday. “Sarah told me that they had discussed and decided that the film would be narrated by girl, that did make a lot of sense,...it's a different experience physically, emotionally, psychically,...I think it was a good choice.”
“I loved the narration in the book, I love that it was through August's voice and his minute taking, and I always imagined that would translate to film,” Sarah Polley added. “As Miriam said, it's a different experience and I think we needed, in the film version, more immediacy and connection to the women's experiences.”
'There is no one option that is better than the other'
When the cast was asked what they wanted audiences of Women Talking to take from the film, Michelle McLeod responded by saying she wants women to get their “power back.”
“After hearing about the events that this film is inspired by and then reading the script, and reading the character within it, honestly, for me, it validated a lot of things that I needed to hear as a woman that I didn't realize I needed to hear,” McLeod said. “It not only helped me kind of get my power back as a woman, I really hope it helps you get your power back in some way, shape or form.”
“I hope that audiences take away the fact that there is no one option that is better than the other or braver than the other,” Shayla Brown added. “To stay and fight takes immense courage, to leave a situation that is unsafe takes courage, and to stay and do nothing also takes immense courage.”