Canadian Women Film Directors Database
home search browse about contact français

Quick search by surname

Women Talking

Directed by Sarah Polley
United States, 2022 (fiction, 104 minutes, colour, English)
Also known as "A Voz das Mulheres", "Ce qu'elles disent", "Die Aussprache", "Ellas hablan", "Entre Mulheres"
Women Talking
Image: © Orion Pictures

Film Description:
"Oscar-nominated writer-director Sarah Polley's fearless adaptation of Miriam Toews' acclaimed novel grants us access to a tight-knit, cloistered religious colony in which women struggle to recover from an epidemic of abuse. Featuring riveting, emotionally complex performances from a stunning ensemble that includes Oscar nominees Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley and Oscar winner Frances McDormand, Women Talking is a drama of harrowing revelations, fraught alliances, and the search for grace. Reeling from multiple counts of sexual abuse, newly uncovered within their Mennonite colony, a group of women gather in a hayloft to discuss how to respond. While the men are away, the women narrow their options down to three: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. Some fear that any act of defiance will jeopardize their entry into heaven, while others believe they cannot survive without husbands and sons. Some are willing to take any measures to escape the terror of their domestic lives and insist that 'the truth is stronger than the rules.' With her first feature in almost a decade, Polley showcases her unmatched skills as both a screenwriter and a director. The film is at once ferocious in its critique of patriarchal oppression—a critique that clearly extends to our broader, secular culture—while respectful of the beliefs and traditions in which its characters were raised. Though it is suffused with the pain of trauma, a stubborn sense of wonder and quiet joy in community permeate the film. Women Talking ushers us through a journey of rage, grief, wisdom, and hope through to a triumphant, most gratifying conclusion."
-- Jane Schoettle (source)

Film Credits (partial):
Written by: Sarah Polley
Based on: Women Talking, a novel by Miriam Toews
Produced by: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Lyn Lucibelllo Brancatella, Emily Jade Foley
Principal Cast: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod
Cinematography: Luc Montpellier
Film Editing: Christopher Donaldson, Rosyln Kalloo
Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Production Company: Plan B Entertainment, hear/say Productions, Orion Pictures

Awards won by Women Talking

Notes about Women Talking


Quotes by the Director

"I said to [Women Talking producers Dede Gardner and Frances McDormand], 'Look, I wasn't looking for a film to make and here's why. I have three kids. I'm not interested in disappearing for 16 hours a day. I actually don't think I can direct a film. But I don't know what to do because I love this [Women Talking]. Could it wait till my kids are a lot older? Because I really don't want to disappear for this amount of time and I don't see another way of doing it unless we were to work like 10-hour days, which is impossible basically.' And Fran just sort of let out this battle cry. And was like, 'Well, you know, we're women talking and we're in an industry where men have written the rules and it's time for us to rewrite the rules. So let's just rewrite the rules and just say yes. We'll do short days and make it viable.'"
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"So few women got to make movies in the past, we didn't get to have our sweeping, classic epics. I wanted this film [Women Talking] to feel big in the old-fashioned sense—I wanted to push in the camera as someone delivers a big monologue; to make it wide screen; to use a crane and a drone."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"We'd take the process you see in the film [Women Talking] and use it. During prep, we'd literally be throwing stuff up on the board and saying, 'Let's have this hard conversation.' There was a moment when we had to cut the budget. We called it 'the week of pain.' And everyone had to bring up every idea they could possibly think of and they weren't allowed to think about anyone's feelings. And then we just debated each and every idea. We put a number beside each item. And we cut a million dollars in two days. And it was really OK. Nobody walked away, saying, 'I can't believe we had to lose this thing.'"
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"What I was really drawn to in the story is that it's this incredibly hopeful exercise—this community of women who don't agree with each other on a lot of things, having to figure out how to work together and move forward together, and the stakes couldn't be higher. The film at its spine is incredibly optimistic, so I never felt mired in the difficulty of it. It's about surviving and moving forward together as a community, and a really rich and deep experiment in what democracy might look like. Those, for me, were the driving forces. The trauma is the substance of what they have to deal with as they move through those things. I did think that finding laughter was incredibly important and that we needed a guiding principle of finding moments of release and laughter and levity wherever humanly possible in this film [Women Talking]."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

Quotes by the Director [in French]

"C'était important qu'il y ait une part de fable dans cette histoire [Women Talking], pour qu'on puisse tout absorber. C'est une histoire archétypale. Tout est un peu exagéré. C'est une réalité augmentée. Si le film avait été tourné de manière réaliste, tout se serait écroulé. Avec une palette de couleurs réaliste, on se poserait peut-être des questions sur la manière de parler des personnages, sur la grange où ils se rencontrent, ou sur ce qui est moins crédible dans ce scénario."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"Je ne suis pas une lectrice rapide, mais j'ai lu [Women Talking de Miriam Toews] très vite : il est passé à travers moi comme une décharge électrique. [...] Ce roman soulevait en outre des questionnements qui me rejoignaient intimement. Des questionnements intemporels, autour de la foi, du pardon, des distinctions à faire entre la culpabilité individuelle et les injustices systémiques… Comment s'y prend-on ? Quelle part de blâme revient à l'individu, et quelle part incombe à la société qui a permis, facilité, voire encouragé, les abus perpétrés ?"
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"Nous [l'équipe du film Women Talking] avions l'impression de faire partie d'un mouvement, pas juste d'un film."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

"Sur le papier, filmer un débat semble être la simplicité même. Beaucoup moins caméra à la main. Certaines scènes de dialogue [dans Women Talking] duraient jusqu'à 15 minutes et ont nécessité jusqu'à trois jours de prises. Nous avons pris le temps de faire quinze jours de répétitions. C'était éreintant pour mes actrices et acteurs et exigeait énormément d'endurance. Ce n'est pas un hasard si ces comédiennes avaient une réelle expérience des planches. Au théâtre, il faut rester au même niveau d'intensité soir après soir sans se laisser dévorer par son rôle."
-- Sarah Polley (source)

Quotes about Women Talking

"I can't help thinking that in the real world, the women would have been much more aware of practicalities. Stay and 'fight'? How does that work? And if they want to flee, then that might have to be more like a prison escape; they would need to leave right away, before their brutal menfolk caught them and brought them back. And they would surely have needed to think where exactly they were going and where, for example, they were going to spend the night. The film's [Women Talking's] rather abstract conversation doesn't convey much in the way of urgency or specificity. But there is a sustained moral seriousness in [Sarah] Polley's work, a willingness to confront pain."
-- Peter Bradshaw (source)

"The very idea of 'Women Talking'—its rootedness in text, its depiction of language as a source of transformative, historic power, as a basis of inner and outer liberation—is radical; the filming of the film, its relationship to images and performance, its dramaturgy, are not radical. As a result, the movie remains more of an admirable idea, an ambitious ideal, than an experience."
-- Richard Brody (source)

"[Sarah Polley] asked [Women Talking] crew members if they had input on scenes and checked in on how the work was affecting them logistically and even emotionally. She emailed the cast every night, outlining expectations and orders of operations for the next day. She also kept a therapist specializing in trauma and memory on set from beginning to end and devised a schedule that maintained humane daily hours so working parents could see their kids. Virtually all of this was foreign to the stars. 'I was taught in this industry, Shut up, do what you're told, don't fight back, you're lucky to be there,' says Claire Foy, who plays the righteously rageful Salome. 'I've never worked with a director like Sarah, ever. It's how she believes the world should be.'"
-- David Canfield (source)

"[Sarah] Polley has no interest in exploiting the male violence that has been inflicted on her characters, and she trusts her superb actors [...] to subtly embody the horrors of the past as their characters grapple with the future. Nor does Polley lean exclusively on realism in a movie that deliberately hovers between drama and parable, the materially concrete and the spiritually abstract, and whose stark austerity sometimes gives way to bursts of salty wit and cathartic laughter. And so, as sharply honed and concentrated as it is, Women Talking has a remarkable formal and conceptual fluidity. The cinematographer, Luc Montpellier, employs a palette that's muted to the point of monochrome; it's a deliberately unlovely look—a reflection of an ugly world—that makes it all the more remarkable when moments of color and beauty steal into the frame."
-- Justin Chang (source)

"The production design is respectful and well-researched, and the cinematography features gorgeous wide shots of wide-open farmland, the colour unsaturated and evocative of a place out of time in a culture all its own. Women Talking pulls the threads of sorrow, joy, anger and faith together to explore the nature of forgiveness and patriarchy, and the determination that these women matter enough to leave their abusers behind. While [Miriam] Toews's original story is linked to the 'ghost rapes' at the Manitoba Colony in Bolivia more than a decade ago, the film never mentions Mennonites of any geographic location. Instead, [Sarah] Polley considers the film a 'fable' and the plot diverges significantly from historical events."
-- Mandy Elliott (source)

"Adapted from Miriam Toews' 2018 novel of the same name with fierce intellect, immense force, and a visionary sense of how to remap the world as we know it along more compassionate (matriarchal) lines, Sarah Polley's Women Talking never feels like it's just 104 minutes of bonneted fundamentalists chatting in a barn, even though—with a few memorable, and sometimes very funny exceptions—that's exactly what it is. Toews' book could easily have been made into a play, but every widescreen frame of Polley's film will make you glad that it wasn't. She infuses this truth-inspired tale with a gripping multi-generational sweep from the very first line, which puts the violence in the rear-view mirror and begins the hard work of keeping it there."
-- David Ehrlich (source)

"The rhythms of the dialogue [in Women Talking] are sometimes stilted and strange [...] and the movie itself so rigorously self-contained and, well, talky that it's hard to imagine exactly who its wider audience will be. Still, there's a deep vein of humor and humanity that [Sarah] Polley and her actors mine from the text, and something quietly mesmerizing in their world-building. (If [Claire] Foy or [Jessie] Buckley don't get at least one major industry nod, the awards system isn't working.) [Women Talking] is billed in the title card, tellingly, as 'An act of female imagination.' When it lifts away from its more formal constraints, imagination almost feels like too soft a word for this fierce, sometimes inscrutable film; it's an act of will."
-- Leah Greenblatt (source)

"Anger and tenderness flow in equal measure in Women Talking, a focused, forceful drama about a community of women living in a strict religious community who are reeling from the sexual abuse they've endured. Adapting Miriam Toews' novel, writer-director Sarah Polley doesn't offer easy catharsis or simplistic platitudes, instead delving deeply into the mixed emotions felt by these mothers and daughters, who are tired of the mistreatment but divided on how to respond. Examining faith and the patriarchy with quiet eloquence, this drama provides an acting showcase for a suite of superb performers headlined by Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley."
-- Tim Grierson (source)

"Although [Sarah] Polley cuts away to quick flashbacks and stylized still shots telegraphing women's isolation even amid close proximity, most of the action occurs in the hay-strewn barn, filmed by Luc Montpellier in dreary shades of gray. (Kate Hallett, playing a young girl named Autje, provides the somber, Days of Heaven-like narration.) The dour, desaturated palette gives Women Talking an appropriate air of timelessness but also saps vitality and visual interest from a frame that is taken up with—what else?—women talking. The effect becomes increasingly oppressive as the arguments wax and wane, about everything from the etymological difference between 'leaving' and 'fleeing' to the nature of forgiveness."
-- Ann Hornaday (source)

"One thing [Sarah] Polley doesn't show [in Women Talking] is the attacks themselves. We see only the awful aftermath as the women wake to discover their bodies violated and their sheets bloodied. It's not a stretch to consider how a male Hollywood director might have tried to turn Women Talking into a thriller, with scenes of rape followed by righteous retribution. Polley, as did [novelist Miriam] Toews, opts to leave the horror entirely in the mind, where it will hopefully make a greater impact. No thoughtful person can view Women Talking without pondering what we call civilization in the 21st century, where half of the populace too often lives in fear of brutality from the other half."
-- Peter Howell (source)

"An atmosphere of empathy, reason and wit pervades [Sarah] Polley's film [Women Talking], underwritten by an emancipatory urgency ('that day we learned to vote') that drives the narrative even in its darkest moments. Flashbacks may illuminate these discussions, but Polley keeps the atrocities off-screen, relying instead on wonderfully nuanced ensemble performances to grip the audience's attention. Yes, individual images linger in the mind: an alarming overhead shot that implies both a God's-eye view and an out-of-body experience; a closeup of Frances McDormand's character Scarface Janz resembling Ingmar Bergman's iconic embodiment of Death. But it's the sinewy drama of the central philosophical argument that rings truest, calling to mind the passionate political debate set piece that lies at the heart of Ken Loach's Land and Freedom."
-- Mark Kermode (source)

"[Sarah] Polley strikes a hypnotizing rhythm amongst the women, who attack despair with cheeky humor (Women Talking is unexpectedly funny in parts) and uncertainty with astute deliberation, respectfully challenging each other on a course of action as much as lovingly braiding one another's hair. And it must be noted that, wisely, Polley never shows us the acts of violence committed on the women—perhaps because there is already too much of it out there. We only see what's been left in its wake, like scars, bruises and Ona's very pregnant belly."
-- Tomris Laffly (source)

"The actors [in Women Talking] nimbly maneuver both the old-fashioned formality of the dialogue and the script's swells of anger and loss with striking clarity and mettle. [Claire] Foy painfully illustrates Salome's apoplexy about what was done to her daughter. [Rooney] Mara manages a wistful, dreamy measuredness that can't quite hide the sadness that has descended over Ona's life. [Jessie] Buckley commandingly lashes out in confusion and fury. [Sheila] McCarthy, as an egregiously harmed elder and a guilt-ridden parent, conjures up generations of unspoken violation."
-- Richard Lawson (source)

"The morning the Oscar nominations were announced, I was incensed that [Sarah] Polley was not nominated for Best Director—a category that shockingly (or maybe not) has only men in competition this year. [...] I rewatched [Women Talking] this week and was transfixed once again. But every now and then the experience was interrupted by my rage that not a single one of these superb actors was recognized with an Oscar nomination. Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy. Sheila McCarthy! These are among the best performances you will ever see."
-- Marsha Lederman (source)

"[Luc] Montpellier's camera follows the colony's girls as they romp through fields with a lyrical childish abandon. He captures the women's inner light, and he and [Sarah] Polley frame the women's interactions with formal compositions that cast them in the glow of something historic, enduring. The world beyond them, viewed from the gaping hayloft doorway, is an impressionist blur. What more could it be for people who have never been permitted to see a map?"
-- Sheri Linden (source)

"Quietly, confidently and without fanfare, [Sarah] Polley has made the first piece of great post-MeToo cinema. What it depicts, and a homogenising hashtag doesn't, is that there is no singular response to abuse. It's also a reminder that change rarely comes without collective action. The women are trying to understand who they might be in a world where they are not subjugated, and that question is presented here as an opportunity. To those not interested in this conversation then Women Talking might sound, literally, like just a bunch of women talking. But for those who want to listen—and those who need to hear it—this is a film full of hope."
-- Clarisse Loughrey, Jessie Thompson (source)

"We were in a parallel world, working on this movie [Women Talking]. In that hayloft, we were actors and our characters, listening, taking in the information and jumping on it, debating, disagreeing. We were working on the movie and in the movie."
-- Sheila McCarthy (source)

"Sarah [Polley] wanted the imagery [in Women Talking] to feel as epic as the decision these women have to make. She wanted it to feel almost gothic in its nature, so that you feel the timelessness of what's happening. [...] We wanted the audience to feel a little displaced in a way that they didn't know quite what time period they were in. Hopefully what that does to the viewer is keep them a little more engaged and relating to the story."
-- Luc Montpellier (source)

"While the debate [in Women Talking] is fascinating in its particulars—and could be used as a model for debate practice—there's something rather formal in the result, betraying the artifice of the original source. The women in Bolivia were heroic for coming forward to testify against their rapists (men they knew) in court, and in so doing they broke with every tradition they knew. They put themselves 'beyond the pale' of their own conditioning and told their stories in front of the world. Their act took tremendous courage. Toews' made-up debate seems like an intellectual exercise in comparison."
-- Sheila O'Malley (source)

"In the book [Women Talking], [Miriam] Toews' narrator is August. As the only man in the hay loft, he's the only one with the skills to write down what takes place, and so the book is drawn from his perspective as an outsider-turned-insider. And, for the film, [Sarah] Polley attempted to replicate this effect, even having [Ben] Whishaw record the entire script's worth of voiceover narration before she realized something was missing. 'Suddenly, you have the immediacy of and the intimacy of sound in your ear and images in front of you,' she told the press conference audience. 'Suddenly, you needed the voice of a woman who had gone through one of the attacks in a way that you didn't need [it] in the novel.'"
-- Lauren Puckett-Pope (source)

"While Mennonites are not identified as such (Mennonite viewers will have no trouble making that identification), the Christian faith of the women is clearly and positively presented, which is remarkable given the many flaws of this patriarchal Christian community. [...] Women Talking is an amazing piece of filmmaking that has much to contribute to discussions on trauma healing and sexual violence. It deserves even more praise than it has received. Despite being dialogue-heavy (it would make a great play), it is always captivating. And despite the dark tone of its subject matter, its lack of graphic images and details make it relatively safe viewing for most Mennonite audiences and even church groups where patriarchy is a safe subject for discussion."
-- Vic Thiessen (source)

"The ensemble cast [of Women Talking] includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Jessie Buckley, as well as Ben Whishaw as a formerly excommunicated member of the [fictional Mennonite] colony who's returned to serve as a teacher to the school (which accepts only boys); the marvel of [Sarah] Polley's movie comes from the different perspectives their characters all bring to the ideas of grace, of a parent's responsibilities, of revenge, and how to process rage. Its remote context doesn't diminish how universal the question at its core really is, which is whether a society that has enabled great harm to be done to you can be fixed, or must be left. It's entirely possible the year's most urgent movie about Me Too takes place in a barn in the countryside."
-- Alison Willmore (source)

Quotes about Women Talking [in French]

"Sarah Polley a réussi à créer [dans Women Talking (Ce qu'elles disent)] un huis clos tendu, terriblement dur et poignant, d'une facture théâtrale à la Douze hommes en colère, de Sidney Lumet, qui fait penser à la fois au Ruban blanc, de Michael Haneke, et à La servante écarlate, de Margaret Atwood. Au-delà de la partition théâtrale, il y a une subtilité dans sa mise en scène et une profondeur dans ses dialogues qui font de Women Talking un objet de cinéma unique et particulier."
-- Marc Cassivi (source)

"Pas de doute, [dans Ce qu'elles disent] Sarah Polley a choisi toutes ses actrices — et son acteur — avec brio, leurs traits reflétant l'âme de leur personnage. La mise en scène de Sarah Polley est remarquablement poétique, son souci du détail et de la précision devenant une forme d'épure grâce à la direction de la photographie de Luc Montpellier, le tout étant magnifié par la trame sonore de Hildur Guðnadóttir. Oui, ces femmes parlent. Écoutons-les."
-- Isabelle Hontebeyrie (source)

Publications by the Director about Women Talking

Bibliography for Women Talking

Articles from Newspapers, Magazines, or News Websites

Web Sites about Women Talking

home search browse about contact français