Claire Foy has never worked on a project like “Women Talking.”
The gripping drama (in select theatres Friday, nationwide Jan. 20) follows a group of Mennonite women as they deal with the trauma of sexual assault and consider whether to remain in their isolated colony.
Journalists conducting interviews for the film earlier this fall “asked questions like, ‘What do you think this says about our society?'” According to Foy. “All of the conversations were so engaged and interesting, which is extremely unusual for a female actor. Frequently, you are asked superficial questions, such as, ‘How were the costumes?'”
’12 Angry Men’ has been compared to ‘Women Talking.’
“Women Talking,” based on Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel, is set in 2010 and inspired by true events. The film, like the book, takes place almost entirely in a hayloft over the course of 48 hours, as women of various generations struggle to decide whether to stay and fight or to flee the men in their community who have drugged and raped them. The film stars Foy, Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand, and Jessie Buckley, and deals with complex themes of faith, justice, and forgiveness.
“I was captivated by the challenge,” director Sarah Polley says (“Stories We Tell”). “‘I immediately saw the film in my head,’ you’re supposed to say. No, I didn’t. It sounded like a fantastic experiment to me. But the more I worked on the adaptation, the more convinced I became that it is cinematic.”
Because of its almost entirely one-room setting, the film has been frequently compared to Sidney Lumet’s 1957 courtroom drama “12 Angry Men.” Polley expected it to be more of a reference than it turned out to be.
“I was struck by how different they had to be,” Polley says. “I feel like ’12 Angry Men,’ which I love, is about a single discrete problem that doesn’t directly affect any of these people, so it doesn’t have to feel seismic or expansive in the same way (as this film).”
Instead, she turned to other Lumet films, such as 1975’s “”Dog Day Afternoon” and 1988’s “Running on Empty,” for the way he “loves each of his characters equally and would seek to understand them. That became a sort of ethos for me: I’m not going to judge any of these characters.”
Since its September premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, the film has been widely predicted to receive multiple Oscar nominations, including best picture and best adapted screenplay. Some critics have criticised the drama’s washed-out colour palette, but Polley says it was done on purpose.
“I want it to feel like a fable, so nothing in the film is ever meant to feel hyper-realistic,” Polley says. However, as the women converse late into the night in the barn, the colours of their dresses and faces gradually become more vibrant: “By the end, there’s a subtle sense of colour creeping in.”
Claire Foy portrays a mother who is dealing with “the most painful thing” imaginable.
In the film, Foy plays the enraged and fiercely protective Salome, who seeks vengeance on the men who assaulted her young daughter. Salome delivers one of the film’s most powerful yet heartbreaking monologues, declaring that she would rather burn in hell than let another man touch her child.
In her more intense scenes, Foy, 38, says she was unfazed by the “pages of dialogue” her character is tasked with, and she was able to feed off the “adrenaline” of her fellow cast members. However, for her own mental health, she did not incorporate her real-life experiences as a mother into the role.
“It’s the most painful thing to imagine someone you care about being hurt, and I can’t let that in in any significant way,” Foy says. “I’d never leave the house; I’d never let my child leave the house.”
Meanwhile, Buckley plays the devoutly religious Mariche, who is afraid of leaving the colony for fear of being denied entry into heaven with her children. However, she realises that by continually forgiving her abusive husband, she has unwittingly given him permission to continue assaulting her.
“I fell in love with her right away, maybe because I didn’t understand,” Buckley says. “I wanted to know where the source of pain comes from for a woman who lives in it. This is a pain she inherited not only from her current situation, but also from (past generations).”
The themes of the film, according to Sarah Polley and Jessie Buckley, are ‘timeless.’
“Women Talking” hits theatres six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion, and five years after the Harvey Weinstein scandal thrust sexual misconduct to the forefront of the national conversation.
Some journalists have grouped the film with other so-called “#MeToo” films released this fall, such as “She Said” and “Tár.” Polley and her actors are hesitant to pin the film down to a specific moment or movement, but they hope it will spark a conversation among moviegoers.
“What kind of world do we want to create? What are we hoping to see?” Polley claims.
Early in the film, there is a poignant line about how women in the colony couldn’t speak about their bodies and assaults because they didn’t have the language for it. Ona, Mara’s hopeful character, imagines a world in which young girls are educated and can become community leaders.
It’s critical to provide people with “the space to talk about (problems) without fear of repercussions,” according to Mara. “The film is opening the door to a lot of these conversations in a more nuanced way,” says the director.
Although the drama is set in the present day, Buckley emphasises how topics such as sexual violence and women’s bodily autonomy have been debated for thousands of years.
“This is a timeless conversation,” says Buckley. “There is no end date or beginning date; this conversation must go on indefinitely.”