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Q&A: Sarah Polley, Claire Foy explore ‘difficult conversations’ in ‘Women Talking’

The cast of “Women Talking” gather in a barn. The film, written and directed by Sarah Polley, is based on the novel of the same name. (Courtesy of Michael Gibson)

“Women Talking”

Written and Directed by Sarah Polley 

United Artists Releasing

Dec. 23

By Graciana Paxton

Dec. 22, 2022 1:11 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 10 at 8:43 p.m.

Sarah Polley is bringing salient stories of womanhood from page to screen.

Based on Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name, “Women Talking” centers on a group of women in an isolated religious colony who must decide the best course of action following a string of sexual assaults by the colony’s men. As the women debate the central question of whether to “stay and fight, leave or do nothing,” the film – which releases Friday – showcases the women’s discussions on loyalty, faith, forgiveness and how to design a hopeful future for themselves and the colonies’ subsequent generations.

Polley and cast members, including Claire Foy, spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Graciana Paxton and other college journalists in a roundtable organized by Allied Global Marketing and moderated by Grae Drake about adapting each character’s experiences and perspectives onto the big screen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Related: Q&A: “The People We Hate at the Wedding” screenwriters, cast navigate family dynamics]

Daily Bruin: In terms of the film’s goals as a universal fable and its exploration of womanhood, power and democracy, what do you hope people’s main emotional takeaways will be?

Sarah Polley: I wouldn’t want to be prescriptive about people’s emotional takeaways because I think people map a lot of their lives and what they’re dealing with in their specific communities onto the film, and I’m loving hearing this conversation. But one of the things that I hope is universal is the sense of a model of what a truly democratic process would look like. It’s about really rich consultation, difficult conversations, the encompassing acceptance of very different viewpoints and other people’s lived experiences, and the idea that we don’t have to be on every single issue in order to work together and move forward. We can have the same goal and be there for different reasons, and I just think in terms of an overall dialogue, I’m so excited by the ways in which these women are able to and willing to shift and change their minds.

Grae Drake: (For Claire), your character Salome is understandably one of the most passionate advocates for staying and fighting. How were you able to access that so passionately, so frequently in this movie?

Claire Foy: I think I realized in the very early beginnings of figuring out Salome that her need to stay and fight is very much linked to her need to stay alive. I think what’s happened to her, what’s happened to her daughter and her sister and her mother and every woman in this community, has meant that she doesn’t really understand how it could happen. God’s abandoned her, (and) her community no longer makes sense. I think that the needs standpoint is very much limited to her need to have justice. There must be a reason, and people must be to blame, and they must be punished for what they’ve done to her child.

[Related: Q&A: Director Paul Thomas Anderson reflects on real-life inspiration for ‘Licorice Pizza’]

GD: Sarah, could you talk about the conditions of shooting the movie and what it was like off screen?

SP: I think there was a tremendous connection and community that developed amongst the cast and the crew. One of the things that I found most touching was when someone had a scene, it was particularly difficult for a moment, and there was a sort of palpable sense of victory in the room when a moment worked, and you just see all of these hands just laying on that person’s back or see that person surrounded and embraced and just a sense of solidarity and wanting to lift each other up was omnipresent.

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Graciana Paxton | Music | fine arts editor
Paxton is the 2022-2023 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2021-2022. She is also a third-year psychobiology student from Morgan Hill, California.
Paxton is the 2022-2023 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2021-2022. She is also a third-year psychobiology student from Morgan Hill, California.
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