When it comes to difficult subject matter, “Women Talking,” Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel, is about as distressing as it gets. The film follows a group of women in an isolated religious colony who must decide whether to stay or leave after experiencing unimaginable sexual violence. The true events took place in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia, where women and girls were drugged and raped repeatedly over the course of four years.
At the film’s premiere Thursday evening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles, composer Hildur Guðnadóttir told Variety that the film’s topics were so upsetting that it took her a while to begin work on the film’s haunting score.
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“I was really angry and sad on behalf of these women and what was done to them and it kind of paralyzed me,” Guðnadóttir said. “I couldn’t even approach writing music for it because I was so angry. I wanted to not make music, I just wanted to punch someone.”
But eventually, Guðnadóttir said she learned from the characters in the film, who depend on one another to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced.
“I realized in the process that leaning into hope and community is a much more effective way of actually going about it,” Guðnadóttir said.
“Women Talking” may appear especially relevant in the wake of ongoing human rights crises in Iran and limits to abortion access in the U.S., but writer-director Sarah Polley told Variety that’s only part of the film’s importance in 2022.
“Sadly, I don’t think there’s a moment where this film wouldn’t be relevant in some way,” Polley said. “I do think that having a conversation about what we want to see and the world we want to build is a really interesting one to have right now because there are so many things going terribly wrong for women. But I think it’s an opportunity to declare what it is we hope and expect and deserve to see in terms of equity and justice.”
The film stars Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Ben Whishaw and Frances McDormand (who also produces) as members of the isolated religious community. Foy remarked upon the cast’s tight bond across generations and levels of experience.
“There was so much I learned from the younger generation, I learned so much and from across the board,” Foy told Variety. “There was such a wealth of talent and knowledge and wisdom and generosity. We all shared and we all supported one another and honestly, I can’t say how good it was.”
Sheila McCarthy, a longtime collaborator of Polley’s who plays the wise and funny elder Greta, told Variety that she hopes the film inspires courage in its viewers.
“I just hope that if one person can share their story with another person, it’s just about telling someone, it makes a change,” McCarthy said. “That’s what the takeaway for this movie is — the hope of doing that. Having the guts to do that.”
“Women Talking” opens in theaters on Dec. 2.
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