• Wed. Sep 28th, 2022

The Real Story Behind Talking Women and Miriam Toews’ Novel

ByRandall B. Phelps

Sep 14, 2022

JTwo girls lazily join their braids together, literally bonding with each other. It’s an image that filmmaker Sarah Polley never comments on in her new film women who talkbut who stays with you as you watch the film, the story of a group of women, all of different opinions, who end up coming together to make a decision that will save their lives.

The film is a gripping take on a novel loosely based on a horrifying true story about women in a Mennonite colony who were persistently raped by the men of their community while they slept, attack the settlers initially blamed on Satan or have hallucinations. Already hailed as an Oscar contender after showing at the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, Polley’s drama features a cast that includes Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara and Judith Ivey. as women who meet in a barn, in secret, to find out how to react.

Polley, who also wrote the screenplay, is stingy with explanatory details. Nothing onscreen reminds the audience that this is based on an incident that actually happened in Bolivia; you might not even realize this is a pretty modern story until a truck driver comes through the fields yelling “Daydream Believer” from the Monkees and trying to count the locals for the 2010 census. It’s a departure from Miriam Toews’ 2018 book that makes the film more expressionistic and grounds it in universality.

Here’s what to know about the true story behind the film – which hits theaters on December 2 – the novel it’s based on, and how Polley’s film adheres to and puts a new spin on its inspiration.

Read more: The 52 most anticipated films of fall 2022

The real story

The circumstances of the attacks that inspired women who talk are nightmarish. For years, the men of the Manitoba Colony used an anesthetic originally designed for cattle to render girls and women unconscious and rape them. In 2009, a woman grabbed two of the attackers when she awoke to an assault. Initially, the accused men were punished by their own, but they were eventually handed over to the Bolivian police. Two years later, the case went to trial, where seven of the eight defendants were found guilty, while a ninth escaped capture.

It would have been horrible no matter where it happened, but the fact that it happened in this place, where the locals cut themselves off from modern society while ostensibly attributing pacifism to themselves, made the case even stranger. It was a distressing dispatch from an enclave beyond the comprehension of most foreigners, where the language used is Low German, a holdover from the 16th century.

The novel

Novelist Miriam Toews has unique insight into the lives of survivors. Toews was raised a Mennonite in Manitoba, Canada, and has written several books about her background. women who talk, her 7th novel, uses the horrific rapes as a basis for explaining how women speak when they live in a place that denies them that right. It is an austere novel that quietly lets its lyricism emerge.

Toews’ conceit is that his text is the minutes of the meeting where the women of the fictional colony of Molotschna decide whether to leave the only home they’ve ever known, stay and fight, or not. do nothing. Because none of the female members of this community speak English or have learned to read or write, they appeal to a man, August, a schoolteacher whose family had been exiled for the curiosity and desire to know of his own mother. He went to college, but returned following an incident that resulted in his arrest – abused in prison, he slipped to the edges of the community where he was born.

August acknowledges his place as an outlier and tries to editorialize as little as possible, but as someone who has experienced what exists beyond farmland, he serves as something of a go-between who can contextualize discussions for the reader. The arguments he details are long and often circular, but in the process women can begin to articulate their own desires as well as the injustices they have suffered.

Read more: A Horrifying True Story of Rape in a Religious Colony Becomes Inspiring Fiction

The film adaptation

Director Sarah Polley on the set of “Women Talking”

Michael Gibson – Liberation of Orion

Polley is a director who is uniquely suited to the challenge of adapting this talkative and often dense material. Having started her career as a child actress on Canadian television and later in films, she turned to directing as a young adult, with films that explored female desire. His last feature film was the 2012 documentary Stories we tell, a dig into her past and parentage that explores how she was the result of an unspoken affair her mother had, something she didn’t discover until well into adulthood. More than anything, it becomes a portrait of her long-dead mother as Polley tries to unravel someone who lives only in memory.

The screen adaptation of women who talk is incredibly close to the book, but Polley makes a few key changes. She is even less interested than Toews in explaining Mennonite idiosyncrasies, and gets rid of August as narrator, ceding the voice-over to Autje (first-time actor Kate Hallett), one of the younger members of those assembled, who was also raped. Polley’s conceit is that Autje tells the story of the encounter to Ona’s unborn child, played by Rooney Mara. August is still present, played by Ben Whishaw, but his perspective is more limited. Polley gives way to the female perspective, and Autje’s words that echo across the images have the poetry of foresight.

Using an intensely saturated color palette, Polley only shows the aftermath of the rapes in brief glimpses, almost flashes of intrusive memories. She’s more interested in showing children playing in the fields and emphasizing the collective responsibility of so many traumatized people, giving way to the rage happening in the barn where the meeting takes place. As Ona, Mara is bright and curious; Foy is vengeful like Salome, who fears her own murderous wrath; Buckley is cynical as Mariche, who fears what might happen if they don’t forgive men as they are told. The conversations are theological, but also intensely relatable.

There have already been discussion tits among critics who have seen women who talk on how its issues of forgiveness will be applied to current discourse involving men who have abused women. If you want to draw that connection, it’s pretty clear which side Polley is coming down from, while still leaving room for all the moral complications that may arise from this line of questioning. Yet allowing the film to get bogged down in this debate can also hurt the fact that for all the heartbreak of women who talk, it is finally a vision full of hope. While Toews’ novel ends on a note of uncertainty, Polley’s work makes a strong case for a brighter future.

A card at the start of the film reads, “The following is an act of female imagination.” The rapes have been blamed on “wild female imagination,” but Polley turns that bit of gaslighting into a mantra. It is the promise of a world where women’s voices are heard, free from the specter of patriarchy.

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