Sarah Polley taps her own history for ‘Women Talking’

Writing the script for “Women Talking” required an intensity and ruthlessness that I had not known before. I have never written so many drafts of anything, and always, at the end of the work I had set out for myself, I could see even more before me. It was not a question of expansion but one of continuous focus. How can I tell this story effectively and not let it linger, while still giving us the space to return to, and sort through the meaning of a word like “forgiveness,” which changes and becomes more nuanced with as the characters’ conversation increases?

The film had to move like a bullet and at the same time give us a necessary breath to think.

At some point in the writing process, I realized that I had to write two passages from the point of view of each of the nine main characters in order to accurately trace their trajectories. Even if an active character wasn’t in sight, the exchanges taking place on the other side of the room affected them – and sometimes fundamentally changed them. I had to give each of these women a chance to be the one and only important character in my mind for a few drafts, to minute each of their emotional and intellectual responses to the coming conversation. track heads.

To capture the spirit of the novel, I often had to resist my desire to get too close to it. I started with a board of index cards on my wall, each of which described a “non-negotiable” moment from the novel that could not be cut from the film version. As I look up at that bulletin board now, with its yellow and blue cards, clearly indicating the occasions I most enjoyed being a part of, I see that more than half of them were not shot or cut in the editing room . .

I was just as well connected to the wonderful narration of August, the male character whose meeting minutes we are reading as the voice of the novel. Although this works so beautifully in the book, we realized deep in editing that it was necessary to hear this story through a woman’s voice in order for us to feel connected to the film. I had to go away for a week and write, stream of consciousness, from the perspective of the youngest character in the room (played by the great Kate Hallett), as she grapples with the past from an unknown future. To do this, I had to practice my own experience in a way that I had previously avoided.

A man and two women sit on a grassy slope in view from

The character of August, played by Ben Whishaw, narrates the book. For the film, which also stars Rooney Mara and Claire Foy, right, the story had to be in a woman’s voice.

(Michael Gibson / Orion Releasing)

Up to this point in the process, some of my favorite lines have come directly from my co-workers’ personal experiences; The line “Sometimes forgiveness can be confused with permission” came from someone on the show who experienced domestic violence and finally realized that every time she verbally forgave her partner, it acted as permission for him to be violent with her again. Greta’s apology to Mariche for her daughter’s abuse was shared by a crew member that he had never received from his parents in a parallel situation, and helped us understand what he needed to hear and see in order. to continue in a relationship with his parents.

Now, having written a story from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl who was processing the violence and watching, with brutal honesty, the complex dynamics of her community’s response required me to draw on some of my own past experiences bring to table on the way there were already so many of my team and my team. This story was the most challenging thing I had to write.

Releasing this film was an ongoing process. To omit the structure and many details of the novel that I love in order to be closer to it spiritually; pretending I was ever going to be done with this conversation; letting go of enthusiasm in favor of humor and joy; letting go of things that I held in high esteem but no longer mattered. It was liberating and it was painful.

The best scene I’ve ever shot in my life is an exchange from the novel where Uncle Earnest, the owner of the hayloft, suddenly appears as the women are about to leave at the end of the film. He has dementia, and at first he wants to be an angel and that he could be dead. He also becomes threatening as he wonders if they are about to burn down his barn. This sudden obstacle in the last 10 minutes, from a confused, loving and sometimes threatening male interloper, becomes a moment of deep humor and sadness as Agata, one of the elders, has to convince him to go back to his a house with one of those people. younger women to hide their plans, which involve his abandonment.

They love him and must deal with their complicated feelings about leaving him behind, but their priority must be to get out into another world where they can be freed. How painful it was to realize that this scene in which David Fox and Judith Ivey did such a masterful work in the film. Although it worked beautifully on its own, it delayed the vital urgency of the outcome of the conversation we were living in for an hour and a half, and he had to move on to appreciate the whole.

While the experience of making this film was, at its core, a joy, it was also one of many such heartbreaks, and if this film taught me anything, it’s how to live with heartbreak, see its true purpose and let it go. drive me forward instead of being too strict about what I believed.

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