Sarah Polley, woman of speech and cinema

In a hayloft, a group of women have secretly gathered to make a crucial decision. Indeed, for years in their Mennonite community, women, teenagers and little girls have been drugged and assaulted at night. The infamy having been discovered by a handful of them, the culprits were arrested. Solidarity before the indefensible, the other men went to town to free them. Taking advantage of this absence, delegates must choose, on behalf of all, whether the women will leave the community, stay and fight, or maintain the status quo. Based on the novel by Miriam Toews, itself based on a true story, Women Talking (This what they say) is a rant — and cinematic — driven by filmmaker Sarah Polley.

“I’m not a fast reader, but I read Miriam’s novel very quickly: it went through me like an electric shock,” recalls Sarah Polley.

“I found it essential. I had never read anything like it. This novel also raised questions that resonated with me intimately. Timeless questions around faith, forgiveness, distinctions to be made between individual guilt and systemic injustices… How do we go about it? How much of the blame lies with the individual, and how much with the society that has enabled, facilitated, even encouraged, the abuses perpetrated? »

To write a scenario that would reflect the reality of each character, I had to put myself in the shoes of each one, successively, regardless of my personal opinions. […] Embracing everyone’s perspectives, trying to understand the points of view was necessary so that the individual focuses were authentic.

Ona (Rooney Mara), Salome (Claire Foy), Mariche (Jessie Buckley), Agata (Judith Ivey), Greta (Sheila McCarthy) and Scarface Janz (Frances McDormand) are among the imparted representatives of the fate of their sisters, their friends, their mothers, their daughters and granddaughters. And these questions, they will ask themselves and debate them, sometimes bitterly, because their opinions differ. Only man present: August (Ben Whishaw), the teacher, who agreed to write the minutes, none of the women knowing how to write.

“To write a scenario that would reflect the reality of each character, I had to put myself in the shoes of each one, successively, regardless of my personal opinions. In life, I’m more of a “stay and fight” type. Embracing everyone’s perspectives, trying to understand the points of view was necessary so that the individual focuses were authentic. »

Like a fable

Each has its baggage, its convictions, its way of dressing its physical and psychological wounds… In the discourse, endemic misogyny is both denounced and internalized. But the future of all of them hangs in the balance, and the men are one step closer to home with each passing hour.

“This reminder that time is running out was essential, because the film had to move, be moved by an element of suspense, so as to counterbalance the philosophical-spiritual content debated by the characters. I made sure that the film had scale, that it breathed and that the canvas was vast. There is an element of in camera, because of the hayloft where the women gather, but I wanted to bring them out often. »

Very early in the adaptation process, which she describes as groping in the darkness towards an elusive point of light, Sarah Polley agrees to treat the story as a fable.

“It was in order to maintain this timeless dimension that I mentioned earlier. There is an assumed archetypal side, paired with a kind of amplified reality, which participates in this almost allegorical will. »

With such a distribution, Women Talking also benefits, unsurprisingly, from a high-flying interpretation.

“It was a real headache, because I couldn’t choose an actress for a role without having stopped my choice for all the other roles: it was a whole. And I thought it was essential that they be actresses capable of letting their partners shine. »

Beyond #MeToo

Since its unveiling at Telluride and the TIFF, Women Talking has readily been described as a “#MeToo movie”. This is both true and reductive. “Honestly, I consider the film to be mostly related to the #MeToo movement [#MoiAussi] insofar as it would never have been financed before #MeToo”, nuances Sarah Polley.

“So in that sense, yes, it’s a ‘#MeToo movie’, but the thing is, Miriam wrote the novel before. And again, sadly, what these women went through is timeless. What I like about this story, however, is that these women are wondering about the best way for them to move forward, to emancipate themselves and to flourish. They advance conversion and refuse to let it stagnate. »

Throughout, we are carried by the drama of these women, by their lucidity, by their determination. To the horror of what they have suffered for years, Sarah Polley opposes, to the image, a bewitching poetry. The ugliness of crimes only seems uglier, and the beauty of women’s walks even more beautiful.

This balance is maintained until the end – we will be careful not to reveal what conclusion the heroines arrive at. “It’s bright and hopeful, but it’s not perfect,” says Sarah Polley.

Some compromise for the good of all others, some sacrifice something for the same reason…

“I think it would have been simplistic to pretend that a perfect outcome was possible. »

Parallel to the movie

Entered the industry almost forty years ago, still a child, as an actress in productions such as the series Road to Avonlea (Avonlea’s Tales) and the film by Terry Gilliam The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (The Adventures of Baron Münchhausen), an experiment traumatic which she returns to in her memoirs Run Towards the DangerSarah Polley is on her fourth feature film as a director.

His first, Away from Her (away from her), adaptation delicate story by Alice Munro about a longtime couple struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, earned Julie Christie a Best Actress Oscar nomination and Sarah Polley a Best Actress nomination. suitable scenario. In the opinion of many, Women Talking could, in turn, shine in these categories, but also in those of best film and best direction.

In this regard, Women Talking is not only Sarah Polley’s most complete film, but the one from which she retains some of her best memories.

“The image that will stay with me forever is the sight of all these actresses taking their breaks together in the green room [espace commun où se repose une troupe de théâtre] from the studio. Usually, on a shoot, performers, especially of this caliber, isolate themselves in their individual trailers. But there, all the actresses stayed together to chat, embroider, laugh, play with Rooney’s baby… It was so inspiring to see this community of women develop alongside that of the film. »

The film Women Talking hits theaters January 6.

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Sarah Polley, woman of speech and cinema