In this episode of the podcast, we discuss Sarah Polley’s new Oscar hopeful film: her screen adaptation of the Miriam Toewes’s novel Women Talking. We talk about how the film works (or doesn’t) as an adaptation, its lack of specificity in depicting a mennonite community, and the many problems that plague the film.
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About the episode
At Seventh Row, we’ve been long-time fans of Sarah Polley. We have even published episodes on her films Take This Waltz and Stories We Tell. Women Talking is her first bad, if well-intentioned, film. But it’s been getting enormous Oscar buzz since its Telluride premiere.
In this episode, we discuss why the film Women Talking didn’t work on every level. This includes the didactic screenplay, the bland and placeless production design, the typecasting, and the poor direction of group scenes. We are joined by special guest Dr. Angelo Muredda, who has a PhD in CanLit.
Additionally, Angelo and Alex read the book by Miriam Toews, on which the film is based. We discuss the problems in the source text that get translated into the film — and how the film works (or doesn’t) as a page-to-screen adaptation.
This episode features Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney, Executive Editor Orla Smith, as well as special guest Dr. Angelo Muredda.
About the film Women Talking
Based on a true story that happened in Bolivia, Women Talking is a fictional reimagining with an alternate ending. Almost every woman and girl in a small Mennonite community has been raped in their sleep by men or boys in the community. Traumatized and beaten down, a group of women volunteers from three families convene for a couple of days to discuss what the women should do. They must decide whether to stay and fight or to leave. The film then follows them through their discussions. The film Women Talking was adapted from the Miriam Toewes novel of the same name by Sarah Polley.
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On the podcast episode on the film Women Talking
- 00:00 Introduction
- 04:40 Why are talking about Women Talking?
- 07:20 An overview of our problems with Women Talking
- 25:05 Adapting Miriam Toews’s novel
- 34:00 The lack of specificity in Women Talking’s depiction of a Mennonite community
- 36:50 The casting and performances in Women Talking
- 52:10 The film’s treatment of its trans and disabled characters
- 1:06:05 Sarah Polley’s direction and the film’s cinematography
- 1:19:55 How Women Talking fits into CanLit
- 1:24:00 Why is this film resonating?
Show Notes on the podcast on Sarah Polley’s film Women Talking
- Read the 2019 New York Times article that Alex cites on the episode: in the piece, mennonites are interviewed about their thoughts on Miriam Toews’s novel, Women Talking.
- Read Alex’s interview with the writer-director of Felix & Meira, a film about a Hasidic Jewish woman who decides to leave her community. On the episode, Alex compares Women Talking to films about Hasidic Jews.
- Read Alex’s interview with the writer-director of Menashe, a film about Hasidic Jews made with actors who are part of the Hasidic Jewish community. On the episode, Alex compares the depiction of mennonites in Women Talking to the depiction of Hasidic Jewish characters in Menace
- Read Angelo’s recent review of Armageddon Time for Film Freak Central.
- Ep. 43: Take This Waltz and Paper Year: Canadian marriage stories (Members Only) – We go deep on Sarah Polley’s second feature, Take This Waltz, a film about a marriage breaking up, and compare it to another female-directed Canadian film about a troubled marriage, Paper Year.
- Ep. 40: Stories We Tell, Louder Than Bombs, & Mouthpiece: Dead mothers (Members Only): We discuss Sarah Polley’s third feature, the creative nonfiction film Stories We Tell alongside two of our favourite films that are also about dead mothers. All three films were on Seventh Row’s 50 favourite films of the decade list.
- Ep. 73: Promising Young Woman and The Assistant: Explorations of rape culture (Members only): We discuss two films that explore rape culture, one that does it thoughtfully (The Assistant) and one that does it poorly (Promising Young Woman). In the current episode, we regularly compare Women Talking to Promising Young Woman and refer back to this discussion in Ep. 73
- Bonus 27: Empathy on film with Dr. Brett Pardy (FREE to everyone) – Dr. Pardy did his PhD research on how films can create empathy, and we discuss on Ep. 132 how Women Talking fails to create empathy.
Speakers on this episode
Special Guest Angelo Muredda holds a PhD in disability studies on Canadian Literature and is a lecturer in the English department at Humber College. Angelo has also contributed to our ebook Portraits of resistance: The cinema of Céline Sciamma with an essay on the female gaze, and to our ebook Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt’s broken American dreams with an essay on Wendy and Lucy. Find Angelo on Twitter and Instagram at @amuredda.
Host Alex Heeney is the Editor-in-Chief of Seventh Row. Find her on Twitter @bwestcineaste.
Host Orla Smith is the Executive Editor of Seventh Row. Find her on Instagram @orla_p_smith.
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It’s also the only place you can find interviews with her and all her collaborators, which together reveal Reichardt’s filmmaking process like never before.
The transcript for the free excerpt of this episode was AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Orla Smith 0:16
Welcome to the seventh row pcast. I am Orla Smith, one of the hosts of this podcast and the executive editor of seventh row. Seventh row is a nonprofit online film criticism publication and publishing house dedicated to helping viewers engage in political conversations through the lens of cinema. We're invested in how film can be a catalyst to help people understand and think about social structures and social change.
Orla Smith 0:43
On today's episode, we will be discussing Sara Polley's acclaimed new film Women Talking, which is adapted from a novel by Canadian author Miriam Toews. The film stars Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, Ben Whishaw, and more in a tale of a group of Mennonite women debating whether they should stay in their community to try to reform the men who have committed multiple acts of rape, or if they should leave to find a new way of living for themselves.
Orla Smith 1:10
This film was the runner up for the TIFF People's Choice Awards. It's a big Oscar contender, and it's been largely critically acclaimed.
Orla Smith 1:19
But we don't agree. If you told us at the beginning of the year that we'd be so down on a Sarah Polley film, I think both Alex and I would have been very surprised. We are such big fans that we've even done podcast episodes on two of her three previous features: Take This Waltz and Stories We Tell. And I'll link those for you in the show notes for this episode. Not only that, we pretty much love most of the actors in this film.
Orla Smith 1:46
So we were surprised when we found that the film was kind of insulting in the way it attempts to engage in feminist discourse. It's all too simplistic, didactic, and nonspecific in our eyes. And in this episode, we dig into why and why all of that bothers us so much.
Orla Smith 2:06
Our bonus episodes like this one are usually the members only, but we wanted to offer this up as a free example of the kind of content you'll get if you become a member. If you want access to our other bonus episodes, you can become a member at seven-row.com/join That will also be in the show notes. The voices you're hearing this episode are me, Hello, my co-host Alex Heeney, the editor in chief of Seventh Row and our special guest, Angelo Muredda, who we will introduce in a bit more detail at the start of the recording. I hope you enjoyed the episode.
Alex Heeney 2:40
We are happy to welcome a very special guest today. Dr. Angelo Muredda who has a PhD in CanLit from the University of Toronto, which I have interpreted, based on our discussions, as meaning he has met every single author in Canadian literature. And I do know he has met [Miriam] Toews. Every time I mention a Canadian Lit author to him, he tells me you know some Angelo teaches in the Department of English at Humber College and is a freelance critic for CinemaScope magazine and Film Rreak Central. He has also written essays in a couple of our books he has great essays on Wendy and Lucy in our Kelly Reichardt book Roads to Nowhere and a great essay on the female gaze and art and in the film portrait of a Lady on Fire by Celine Sciamma and our book portraits of resistance. Sorry, Angelo, please just say hello so people can hear your voice before I talk over you some more.
Angelo Muredda 3:42
Hello, nice to be here again.
Alex Heeney 3:46
When I invited Angelo to come on the podcast, we did have a discussion about how we have invited a man to our Women Talking podcast
Orla Smith 3:56
That is very representative of the film.
Alex Heeney 3:58
Exactly. Because the film also kind of prioritizes a male perspective. So he's asked us to remind him that he's taking the note in the minutes and you know, if you find that your that he's making really good points that you want to listen to him, rather than us that is perhaps consistent with the film itself.
Orla Smith 4:24
He is our Ben Whishaw.
Angelo Muredda 4:25
right I will do as he does in the movie and say but what I have to say isn't important here.
Orla Smith 4:32
And we will say not all men in return.
Angelo Muredda 4:36
Alex Heeney 4:38
There we go. So why are we talking about Women Talking today?
Orla Smith 4:44
Because everyone's talking about it.
Alex Heeney 4:48
I feel like we all came out of it really angry and we needed to unleash those feelings. I saw it first and then I was like, really hoping Angelo could see it so I can bitch about it with him. And then Orla, you were like, I mean, it can't be as bad as they said.
Orla Smith 5:06
Well, because I mean, I certainly you and I love Sarah Polley.
Alex Heeney 5:10
Yes. And we loved all of her other films. I haven't seen her TV show Alias Grace. But I've loved her first three feature films.
Orla Smith 5:20
And I thought Alex must be having a bad day. And it can't be this bad that, like, I remember hearing about this film, you know, over a year ago now, probably. And thinking, wow, this is just like a perfect cast for me. Yeah. Perfect cast and like director pairing. I'm so excited. Absolutely brilliant cast full of these great actresses plus Ben Whishaw is the only man, which is, you know,
Alex Heeney 5:51
the way the world should be.
Orla Smith 5:53
Exactly. And when you said it was bad, and gotten increasingly angry about the ways in which it was bad, I was kind of in a phase of denial until I heard more and more people that I trust saying the same thing. And I was like, Okay, this can't just be Alex having a bad day. I've got to accept that. I might not like this film. But I went in, you know, I'm still hoping to get something from it. And I came out quite angry, just as you did. So, there you go.
Alex Heeney 6:23
My recollection was once you saw it, you were like, Yeah, we have to do a podcast about this. We have to like get rid of this pent up anger, much like promising young woman where it was like, I lived with that film, with the hatred of that film for six, eight months or more.
Orla Smith 6:40
I mean, you have you have said in, like, in a Google Doc, like, is it this year's Nomadland. And I think maybe in like the vibe of the filmmaking, it might be more of a speed with that film. But I do think it's also kind of this year's promising young woman in terms of the way that like people are falling over themselves to talk about it as this feminist masterpiece, but it's really just kind of like an Oscar bait-y shallow film in my eyes. I don't any of us read the book before they saw the film, or was this a retroactive situation?
Alex Heeney 7:18
I had not read the book before the film, because I'm very bad at reading camlet Because I was traumatized in high school by reading the very worst of CanLit and didn't realize there was good CanLit I think Angelo was traumatized by his PhD in CanLit.
Angelo Muredda 7:37
Yeah, I hadn't read it, because it sort of came out at the time when I stopped reading Canadian literature, because I had just finished a PhD and I just could not look at another, another emission from the CanLit. Industry. I'm so I hadn't read the mission. What better? Vaguely caches.
Orla Smith 8:00
So my impression is that it's a sort of relatively recent book, and that it was like quite acclaimed within within CanLit.
Alex Heeney 8:07
Yeah. I mean, she was the author was kind of a big deal in CanLit. And several of her books have been adapted into movies, which I have, well, she or she wrote the book, all my Puny Sorrows. And we know that
Orla Smith 8:27
I didn't realize she wrote that. Yeah,
Alex Heeney 8:29
I think she wrote another book. I want to say silent night that was adapted to film, but I don't know anything about that.
Angelo Muredda 8:35
She starred in the Carlos regadas movie silent light, which is not hers actually. Like she Oh, okay. I don't know if you know the story of how she was cast in it. But it's pretty funny. He was walking. I think he was just in a bookstore. And he just happened to be flipping through book covers and saw her photo on the jacket cover and then read that she was a Mennonite was like, Oh my God, I want to make a movie about the Mennonite community in Mexico. And so he basically cast her from the jacket cover photo of her, and she hadn't acted before that.
Orla Smith 9:09
Alex Heeney 9:10
Steven Soderbergh class, Claire flinging unsane unseen from her like Emmys acceptance speech for the crown. Yeah, he was like, she seems cool. I'm gonna put her in my movie. Hadn't seen the crown or anything. She's done. So brilliant. Interesting. Yeah. And I'm speaking of no mad land, because Francis McDormand bought up the rights to the book, women talking, I think, pretty fast, maybe even before it was published. I'm not sure it was.
Orla Smith 9:44
She just heard that it was good women too. Okay. That will be good for my production company.
Alex Heeney 9:49
And then Sarah Polley had read the book after it came out and she emailed her agent was like, Can I adapt this? And it turns out, they share an agent and Francis McDormand and her producing partners. We're like, we'd really love to ask Sarah Polley to do this. So, there you go. They fell in love over this book.
Alex Heeney 10:08
Okay, well, so what the hell is this thing about, now that we've trashed it? Well, we've started Do we just get? We're just getting started.
Alex Heeney 10:17
The film is set in a Mennonite community, populated primarily with British and or Irish actors doing fine American accents are Canadian, Canadian actors in their own Canadian accent. So we don't know where it is. Almost every woman in the community has been drugged and raped by men in the community, including young girls and teenagers. Many of them repeatedly over like months and months, possibly years in the movie, I'm not sure.
Alex Heeney 10:50
So the women decide to hold a vote to determine if as a group, they want to do nothing leave or stay in fight. And three generations of women from two families are chosen to represent the community to have a discussion about what they should do and make the final decision based on a vote between themselves so they have like a couple days to do this, and they gather in a barn to discuss. It's an ensemble film.
Alex Heeney 11:21
So the de facto leader of this discussion is the free thinking owner played by Rooney Mara, who was pregnant as a result of a rape but refuses to marry. She regularly butts heads with Marika played by Jessie Buckley, who is married to an abusive husband and has two children, at least one of whom was also a victim of these crimes, and she is kind of afraid to do anything because she's already traumatized.
Alex Heeney 11:51
And then there's the fiery Salome, played by Claire Foy, who is extremely angry, and is also caring for her very young daughter, like, three, five, maybe she can carry her who got an STD as a result of her rape. And Saome had to walk really far, like 12 kilometers or something to secretly get her antibiotics because the community leader refused to get them for her. So they're joined by two teenagers from their family who are also victims and the two matriarchs of the family. I got played by Judith Ivey and Greta, played by the great Sheila McCarthy, who is a big deal in Canada.
Orla Smith 12:35
And who was in Patricia Rozema's first film,
Alex Heeney 12:39
And like tons. She's in like everything [in Canada]. And atStratford. And yeah. So Ona invites the male school teacher, August, who is also her childhood friend, and August is played by Ben Whishaw, and he is there to take the minutes of the meeting.
Orla Smith 12:56
But his opinion doesn't matter.
Alex Heeney 12:58
Well, that's what they keep telling him.
Angelo Muredda 13:01
And as he reminds them a few times, as well.
Alex Heeney 13:04
yes, because sometimes they do ask him because he's educated. They think
Orla Smith 13:10
The thing about it is that it's, I mean, we've used the phrase like, oh, we were so offended by the film. So far, I think it's the things that would make it quote unquote, offensive, are subtler in the ways that it like fucks up something and is ultimately good intentioned. It's not like promising young woman levels of abrasive. It's trying to provide like a thoughtful discourse on I don't know, I hate it when people say this, "it's about like the me too era".
Orla Smith 13:46
But it's definitely like, you know, bouncing off of increased discussions about like rape culture and feminism, especially like in film, and talking about whether it's what like that, again, their whole thing is discussing whether to stay and try to like improve the community of men and teach the young boys to be better or to leave for self preservation and to leave their homes. And it's this idea of do we remove ourselves for safety? Or do we try to improve things from within? And I think that the film has been really widely beloved in the film festival Oscar season circuit. And I think it's because it is very like explicitly about ideas of feminism and rape culture and and these
Alex Heeney 14:49
these Mennonite women seem to be very conversant in the Twitter vocabulary around the Me Too era.
Orla Smith 14:58
But But that's where the problem until the film really arrive, is because the film is like a mouthpiece for all of these ideas. Yeah, and every character represents a different side, or like a different way that you could think about these things. But they, that's the very problem that they aren't characters. And they are like illiterate women who are like a cut off from wider society, they don't have an internet connection. And yet the way they speak is in the language of like, discussions about feminism that you might find on the internet, like very, very contemporary discourse, the language like there is a moment in the film, where the phrase not all men is used. Yeah. And it's very, it's very grating.
Orla Smith 15:48
It's also depicting these women who have like, gone through like a kind of unbelievable trauma, like extended trauma over possibly years. Yeah. And it never feels like a film with characters who have like been through trauma, it feels like a film, where these characters are acting as mouthpieces for various ideas and are talking them through.
Orla Smith 16:13
But I never got the sense of like how these people were like actually processing this very real thing that happened to them. And in that way, it's almost kind of flippant about how it talks about this story, which is actually based on a true story. And it feels very disconnected from like the reality of like being a Mennonite woman within this insular community.
Orla Smith 16:36
So I just, I just found it to be such like, a pandering way to talk about these ideas. And that feels disconnected from like actual characters and feels like it's just playing into like, an Oscar voter crowd, who want to vote for something that is very explicitly, quote unquote, progressive.
Alex Heeney 17:00
Yeah, it also doesn't ask the audience to think it just kind of tells them, hey, patriarchy is pretty bad. And like something we talked about with our associate editor, right after he finished his PhD, Brett Pardy, we did a bonus episode where we talked to him about like empathy and film and how didactic films don't really work to create empathy. And this film really does not ask you to have independent thought and does not create characters who are I mean, they're not as you said, they're not characters, they're mouthpieces. I know nothing about them, outside of the opinion that they are there, they exist to share, pretty much.
Angelo Muredda 17:48
It feels like every character is meant to kind of cover every discursive base for us. And like to sort of piggyback on what everybody's saying, like I think, this focus on the discursive pyrotechnics of like, this person who feels this versus this person who feels this in the room, really does, as Orla was saying, kind of obfuscate the actual situation that they're in and what's actually happened to them, right?
Angelo Muredda 18:14
Like there are immediate reasons for them to meet right now. Right? They're, they're coming up with alternative forms of policing, because they can't go to the police, because the police are useless, alternative forms of justice, because they have not been raised to think about these things and to have any say injustice. There's an immediacy of like protecting themselves protecting their children, right. There are actual immediate things they have to deal with.
Angelo Muredda 18:37
And I think there's something about the way the movie and the book, right like this is fundamental to the text of women talking. The way it kind of like gestures to these larger discourses that we reading it know about, kind of takes away from the specifics. And like it comes out in the anachronistic language, as you pointed out, not just in the not all men moment, which is funny in the movie, not on purpose, I think.
Angelo Muredda 19:02
But like the way that they talk about violence and harm, to me, like the use of those terms. I mean, maybe this is all...in the novel, it's because August is the transcriber of the conversations, right? So maybe August has been hanging out in some social justice forums, and he has this language.
Angelo Muredda 19:20
But it's not clear to me why they in this community, when they have not been educated in those worlds and grown up in those worlds, why they kind of have the social justice language to kind of plug what's happened to them into that wider world. It'd be more interesting if they independently came at those values without knowing the language, it seems to me.
Alex Heeney 19:37
Yeah. Even in the book, there are a few references where August is like they didn't actually say this word. But I think that's the word that they mean. And so he and he, he states that and the thing that we don't get in the film, but we're told in the book is that they all like the book is set in a Bolivian Mennonite calm only called the Manitoba colony, which is, well, it's theoretically set there, I don't know, it's really fair to say that. That's the like, original true story that was the inspiration for the book.
Alex Heeney 20:12
And so it keeps like two or three details of what that place is in the book. And one of those details is that the women don't speak. Well. Everybody in the colonies speaks a form of Low German and called Plauditch that nobody it's like basically a dead language everywhere else. And the women don't know how to speak English. And for some reason, August is writing the meeting notes in English. So he is translating on the go into English, what they say. So I don't know how much of this is intended by Toews to read into, but there's certainly like some broken telephone and liberties taken with whatever they're saying when August takes those notes.
Orla Smith 20:55
To to like phrases or individual words, I noted down when I was watching it were like the use of the word entitled felt very, like contemporary discourse-y.
Orla Smith 21:06
And also one point, I think it's Sheila McCarthy's character, who very confidently like, labels the men as rapists, which of course they are, but it feels almost like there would be more of like a reluctance to use that word. As as accurate it is, as it is, and but I think, in general, just the confidence with which they have the words to articulate, like, the theory behind how they're feeling and how like their opinions on the situation, the fact that they don't sort of seem to be like struggling to form a conclusion about how they feel towards the situation, but they seem to arrive at the film, from its opening with like, very fully formed ideas just feels like it feels untrue. And it feels very dramatically unsatisfying for film set in this situation. And it just and it feels so like, not a sort of revealing of like how people actually think through these ideas.
Orla Smith 22:12
I think one of the like, benefits of setting this film in this Mennonite community would be that was, as we've said, like, you get to watch how people form opinions about their situation without necessarily having the language to do so. So it just ends up feeling like a massive missed opportunity. And very frustrating that this film is like the front runner to win the Best Screenplay. The Oscars right now. The screenplay is just a mess.
Alex Heeney 22:44
It could be worse, like Empire of light could be the number one front runner.
Orla Smith 22:49
which I mean, it would be well, yes, it could be the whale.
Alex Heeney 22:52
Oh, right. There you go. It could be much worse.
Orla Smith 22:55
Yes, it could be much worse. But it's still pretty bad. And
Angelo Muredda 22:59
I think a lot of what we're sort of reacting to is like some of that is a problem with the text, and it's not translated gracefully into the film. Ona I think is the is the character who gets a lot of those kinds of discourse-y conversations in the novel. And Ona just knows exactly as much as she needs to know in any given situation, right? She, there are certain things she doesn't know because she's not literate. She doesn't know what a comment is.
Angelo Muredda 23:27
But she can quote Virgil, right, because she was taught Virgil as a child by August's mother, and only as the one if I'm not mistaken, certainly forget if she's also the one who says the not all men passage in the film. But in the novel, it's particularly I think it's the same passage, she says, perhaps not all men, per se, but a pernicious ideology that has been allowed to take hold of men's hearts and minds, right? Like, Ona has independently defined patriarchy, right?
Angelo Muredda 23:55
And like she's through her own inclinations touched on, you know, patriarchal violence and like, I don't think it's impossible that she would. It's just the way that she articulates ideology to me that rings as phony, right. And it's like, it feels as if she has an authorial standing when she needs to be. And then she's, like, just independently smart, but illiterate when she doesn't need to be.
Orla Smith 24:23
And the film kind of can, like write this off a little bit. Like it has a title card at the beginning that says, what follows is an act of female imagination, which is like, well, which I suppose can seem like, oh, well, you know, this isn't like exactly how it would have gone down. But like, imagine if they could have conversations like this, but it's like, oh, what's the use in seeing a conversation like this that is like that we're so used to already and that is like, so easy to digest.
Alex Heeney 24:58
I mean, I actually think that that Title Card is one of the prime examples of where the adaptation loses context, which is I mean, we'll talk about how that's an overwhelming problem with the film, and possibly a Sarah Polley thing more generally.
Alex Heeney 25:14
But in the book where this because when I saw that film, I saw that and I laughed. I was like, this is like, white feminism, 101. And I think I joked that like the film is basically Sarah Polley's Twitter account in film form, you know, take at you, if you like her Twitter account, you'll like the film.
Alex Heeney 25:34
But in the book, there's actually some context to this language. So in the preface, Marian Toews, tells us that the inspiration for the book came from this Bolivian Mennonite community where, over the course of three years, like hundreds of women and girls were raped. And the men of the community basically claimed that this, that it wasn't rapes that this was wild female imagination that these things happened. And in real life, the women didn't actually choose to leave the colony.
Alex Heeney 26:10
So then Toews is like, okay, so I'm gonna write a book, where I try and reclaim that language and reshape this narrative and say, this book is a work of female imagination. The rapes weren't female imagination, but imagining a better world is female imagination. And so then it doesn't just seem like this weird, like, new agey feminist language coming out of nowhere like it, there's context in the book, but in the film, it's like, why did why was that title card necessary, and you have no idea where it's coming from.
Orla Smith 26:48
But so you're saying that in reality, they stayed?
Alex Heeney 26:52
Orla Smith 26:53
And I just don't, I don't know how I feel about that. Because I sort of feel like, you know, instead, we've now we have a book that is like, what if they did what I think they should have done, rather than trying to understand why they did what they actually did.
Angelo Muredda 27:10
I think that's maybe one of the ways in which Toews as the teller of this story is kind of, you know, inherently problematic, in the sense that Toews is someone who left Mennonite community and, you know, did go away and become a cosmopolitan figure and became very well educated and wrote novels. And it is very much you know, writing about that community as someone who has left it. And so that's something that sort of, you know, pings me as I'm watching and thinking about the the way that we have an author who did leave that community thinking about this utopian potential if others did what she did, and it's it just sort of creates a kind of meta textual ickiness that hangs over it.
Alex Heeney 27:50
Yeah. And she left it 35 years ago, because when the book came out, there was this interview with her in the New York Times, and they also talked to some Mennonites to find out like, did they like this book? Did they think it was terrible? And they didn't talk to a lot of like, I don't know how much to take what the people they've quoted are as like, how much to take them as a grain of salt or not, because they don't really give us an like, it basically seems like they kind of talked to two random Mennonites. But one of them was at least the a senior writer at the bimonthly magazine, Canadian Mennonite. And he said, Will Braun, who's a farmer said that she, he likes her writing. But you know, she's not an authority on Mennonites, local Mennonites, or, for that matter, ones living far away in Bolivia. And she's he says, she's just too far removed at this point.
Angelo Muredda 28:49
And for what it's worth, A Complicated Kindness, which was kind of the first of her novels that really sort of took off. I mean, I don't know if it was the first that took off, but it really got her mainstream success, I would say. That one is also really hinge that one narratively hinges upon the protagonist's decision to either stay or stay within or leave her Mennonite community. And it's very much interested in like, what keeps people in communities like this? And what enables them to leave? And what do we need to do to allow people to see that they can have a life outside of it?
Angelo Muredda 29:22
So from her from Toewe's perspective, I think it's sort of of a piece with other texts that she's written about the that kind of decision making process and maybe that's some of the contexts that sort of get shorn off in the adaptation.
Orla Smith 29:35
Yeah, I mean, with Sarah Polley then adopting it, you have another step of removal, and the film, the community and where it's set, and like what it's like to live there, becomes especially on almost like, intentionally nonspecific, like I really didn't feel what was like in their decision making between leaving and stay saying, she doesn't really do much to give you a sense of like, what their lives are like and what might be tying them. They're like how they feel within this community, what they might like about living there as like most people feel in some way, like some positive connection to their home, even if they largely dislike it, like I, you, it really doesn't feel at all lifted.
Alex Heeney 30:27
I mean, it reminded me a lot of like, There's recently been quite a lot of films about Hasidic Jews, either leaving Hasidic Jewish communities or, I mean, there was one film that was actually shot. That was about somebody living in a Hasidic Jewish community and shot with Hasidic Jews who had like, never seen a movie before. The film that these films are all kind of like inherently problematic in one way or another, even even if some of them do these things better than say, women talking does like, I mean, disobedience, for example, is written by a woman who wasn't a citizen grew up as a Hasidic Jew, and then she left at like 18. And then the book is kind of about this woman who the film to sorry, this woman, her father was like the rabbi, and he dies. And she goes back home for a week to effectively sit Shiva without a Shiva celebration, and contemplate what she's lost by having left the community. But since the author is like, this community was obviously a bad place. I think even the book doesn't do a great job of telling you that there's anything good about it. Whereas ironically, the film, which was directed by Sebastian Maliau, who is definitely not Jewish, does a lot more to sort of evoke like this, the food and the smells and the community and the sense of place, and what's lost with that. And then when you have something like women talking, it's a little bit more like, say, Felix and Mira, which is a Canadian film that I like, but like it came out in, I want to say 2015, like, it was kind of okay, at the time, I guess that a Gentile made this film, and he consulted with X Hasidic Jews, but like, that's also problematic, because they're gonna, like they left, right. So of course, they're gonna see the I'm not saying they're wrong, it's just that they don't necessarily make an effort to tell you to depict the community in its fullness. I think it did like a decent job, but it has pitfalls in it. And
Orla Smith 32:38
you're missing the perspective there. Yeah, chose to stay. And
Alex Heeney 32:41
then there is one movie, oh, God, I can't remember the name of it, I'll look it up. But I actually interviewed the director of it, but it was about like, this is the one that was shot in a Hasidic Jewish community. And then the issue with that movie is it follows a male protagonist, and it's made, like, written in, in collaboration with the actor who plays him, and it's kind of vaguely based on his life. And it's made by a man. And like, yeah, he thinks being a Hasidic Jew is like, more or less, pretty great, because it's patriarchal. And it's kind of about this guy who loses his wife, and now who's gonna take care of his kids? Not him.
Alex Heeney 33:24
And so on the one hand, that film is really, you know, entrenched in and in a good way, like the community, but it's also extremely biased, because it's looking at like the person who I mean, in patriarchy, everybody's hurt by patriarchy, in some ways, but ultimately, like men benefit from patriarchy, at least in some ways, whereas women don't get any benefits really from patriarchy. So anyways, sorry, long tangent, but I just felt like this film feels like of a piece with that.
Alex Heeney 33:58
I think a lot of the discourse around this film is kind of the film, the problem with the film is it has no context, no sense of place, you have no idea where these people are, who they are, what their community is. And so it's easy. Like, that's great if you want this to be a crucible for a discussion of identifying patriarchy, but ultimately, then you're using Mennonites as a prop, and that there seems to be a kind of loss of humanity in there.
Orla Smith 34:27
But even I feel like the film's you just mentioned are like in even if they're doing it in a, in a troubling way, they're intentionally trying to depict a community. And I don't think the film women talking really is trying to do that at all like it's using this Mennonite community setting just as like, you know, some kind of like allegory for like, the wider world of patriarchy. And it ends up feeling Kind of weird that it is basically using this entire community that exists that was like a big part of this real story as basically a prop to make some kind of wider metaphor and have characters that don't resemble the people who would actually live in that community.
Alex Heeney 35:23
Yeah, 100% and the film I was talking about, I couldn't remember the name of is called Menashe came out in 2017.
Angelo Muredda 35:30
Yeah, it feels like this is both like its widespread appeal, like the thing that makes it such an obvious Oscar contender, but also, it's limit in terms of specificity in terms of like actually saying something specific to its context. Using this specific, oppressive religious context is a general way to comment on abuses that we know about in mainstream culture. So you know, it feels very much like that's its appeal. But that's also its limitation.
Angelo Muredda 35:59
This is used as a kind of prop to have conversations about how men who commit sex crimes should be punished. Do we believe women inherently? Do we believe them in the specifics? How do we police or how do we alternatively police sexual assault if we don't believe in carceral structures and systems.
Angelo Muredda 36:18
All of those are things that the movie is kind of allowing us to talk about, or it's kind of opening up those conversation points, but at some point, they have to be characters, too, and they have to actually have, yeah, specific things that have happened to them. And they have to be living in a specific place, or it's just famous actors that we know, instigating conversations, right. And that's kind of how it feels after a certain point.
Alex Heeney 36:41
Yeah. Well, and those actors are even cast to type really, right, like Claire Foy is playing a character she's played 1000 times before. She's basically sleepwalking through this role. I mean, she's Claire Foy, so she's not as boring now. She's not boring, really, more or less, as hard as the screenplay tries to make her that. But you know, she's playing the like, I have strong opinions and I'm a strong woman and you better listen to me. And you know what, she's done that she did that, like is Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall and she did that in that terrible Damien Chazelle movie about space.
Angelo Muredda 37:24
Alex Heeney 37:25
Yes. Thanks. I'm deliberately not remembering the title. Rooney, Mara's kind of like she often gets cast as this. I mean, it's not like she can't play other things. But she has been typecast before as the sort of like, quietly wise person. Right? Like that's like, not unlike her character. And Carol, or, like, her role in? Wow, I can't remember any movie titles today. The David Fincher film about Mark Zuckerberg
Orla Smith 37:59
The Social Network. Yeah, I mean, she's only in the first scene of that, basically. But her job in that film is to, like, tell the main character, all the things about himself that he doesn't quite understand. Yeah. And then to be proven right through the rest of the film. So I think it definitely fits in that pattern.
Alex Heeney 38:19
Yeah, I mean, I don't think Ben Whishaw has really done this particular role before but the idea of Ben Whishaw playing a gentle soul, which is certainly the film's take on August, which I don't necessarily think is the book's take quite so much. The book he's.... you had good words
Angelo Muredda 38:36
He's more of a windbag in the book. He's more Paddington in the movies. More windbag in the book, I would say.
Alex Heeney 38:42
Yeah, I kinda like a wet mop in the book. Maybe also.
Orla Smith 38:47
Yeah, I have a as much as I really liked this cast. Yeah. I was surprised by how uninterested I was by almost any performance. Yeah. And, and there's a couple of reasons for that.
Orla Smith 39:00
First of all, like you said, they're kind of doing something that they we I've seen them do before. Yeah. And they're also not playing characters. As good of an actor as you are, there's only so much you can do with the script like this and the extent to which your character has a personality.
Orla Smith 39:20
But then there's, there's also the weird thing about the accents. And as as much as like, I think, I think it's particularly a problem, I think, with Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley for whatever reason. I think they're both great actors. But their American accents feel very, very put on. And I think I'd say my favourite performance of the women was maybe or like, the sort of main characters is maybe Rooney Mara. And I find it compelling and she can't she can't necessarily like totally save the very monologue-y monologues. But there is something quite grounded about her and comparison to some of the other characters. And part of the reason for that is she is speaking in her own accent. Yeah. And the fact that Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy are trying very hard with these very put on accent only, like, increases the stageiness of the monologues that they're delivering.
Orla Smith 40:27
I think in in another context, in another film, they could get away with that. Claire Foy is kind of doing a similar accent that she did in Unsane but like the with the, the heightened genre nature of that film, like it didn't bother me. But with this film, when it's just people in a barn talking, and the dialogue is already very put on, having such a put on act and only really, really highlights that and makes you feel like what you're seeing is so not real. And so just like actors expressing a screenwriter's own viewpoint, not through any kind of like, lived in character. And I was really surprised to the thought, even if I don't like this film, I'm gonna let the performances and I can't honestly really say that that was the case.
Alex Heeney 41:19
There's also a weird thing that's like about the way that this film is sort of a Canadian film and an American film. And so there's lots of Canadian actors in there, and they're not doing American accents. They're just talking in their Canadian accents. So then, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley particularly stand out because they're doing geographically nonspecific American accents, but they seem to be surrounded by Canadians. And like, that's sometimes the thing that happens in David Cronenberg films. And I was thinking about, like Jude Law's kind of absurd Toronto accent in Existenz. But like, anyway, that movie kind of the point was the accents were bad, but at least he like tried to fit in, sort of, whereas in this, it's like, well, you have to do American accents. Because like, I don't know, Oscars, but like, they're like, it's if they're geographically nonspecific, anyway, and they're not like, in a place, just why not just let everyone speak in their own accents, like treat it like Shakespeare, where, you know...not that this script is Shakespeare! Oh boy.
Orla Smith 42:26
I feel like I think the script shouldn't have committed to a complete lack of specificity. Yeah, I don't, if but if you are going to commit to a complete lack of specificity, at least just let them do their own voices, because that almost like makes the lack of specificity feel a bit more pointed. And again, I don't think it should be that way. But clearly, that's what they wanted to do. Yeah. And that would have been an easy worker.
Angelo Muredda 42:54
I agree about Rooney Mara, though. I think she's the most grounded and I don't know, I was reminded of the thing that Cate Blanchett adds character says to her and Carol that she's a strange girl, she seems flung from out of space. I feel like that's kind of angle she takes here and it like she's playing her almost like yes, various actors have played Jesus in movies, right? She's playing her like Willem Defoe in Last Temptation of Christ or Jim Caviezel. That kind of like, strange space alien day at like, come from another place, wide eyed, innocent, who's kind of like an open receiver for ideas that come to her from places and it's kind of like a, it's a very literary character, but I think she kind of gets that and plays those notes really well. And I do think the accent is part of it.
Angelo Muredda 43:43
The fact that she's able to kind of speak in her own methodical, accidental ASMR kind of voice, I think, allows her to do that really well whereas Foy, I think, is like doing Sarah Polley sometimes, like sometimes it feels like she sounds like... I don't know what Buckley was doing. I feel like she's kind of sounds like she's chewing rocks or something when she speaks sometimes.
Orla Smith 44:10
Yeah, I mean, I think I also the thing about like, the why sensor for any Myers character is that that that couldn't could almost work as a choice if every other character didn't also speak with like a knowledge and whiteness on her level, because it makes almost sense with her character given that she has the history of like having been raised by a more progressive mother. What was it August mother's, so it was August, August mother but like being very close and being sort of like, you know, taught the ways of the world by August's mother, and being very close to Auguste who has like been outside of the community and is educated, but unfortunately everyone also speaks kind of like that. So it doesn't necessarily work.
Alex Heeney 45:00
Yeah, I think the weird exception or not exception, but like when I saw the film because I had not yet read the book I was trying to figure out whether like the film placed undue emphasis on August or if I just felt that way because it's been Whishaw. I think it's kind of both like, there's an inherent problem with casting like one of the general generational great actors working today as the character who you're not supposed to pay attention to, while also being the character that has the most source material to draw on because he's the only person in the book that's written vaguely like a person. So like, I found, I was kind of pissed off almost by how affecting I found Ben Whishaw. Like there were a couple of moments in the film where I teared up and I was super angry about it. And I was like, it's just because it's Ben Whishaw. And I'm angry because this I like this is I feel emotionally manipulated, which is not his fault, but it is the fault of like the filmmakers for thinking, oh, let's make a movie about women but then like cast the one actor who could potentially overshadow these women, don't get me wrong, a huge Claire Foy fan. I I'm still sort of, I was really into Jessie Buckley. Now I'm kind of like the jury's not out yet on this.
Orla Smith 46:22
One and also also, the character of August's is almost easier to play. Well, yeah. Maybe the other characters because he doesn't have for speechifying. He's not supposed to have an opinion. Yeah. So he is the most sort of like, restrained in the way that he is written because he's not necessarily a mouthpiece. I mean, he does definitely represent something. But he's not a mouthpiece for a specific angle in this battle of ideas in the way that the other characters, the other actors have to perform an idea.
Angelo Muredda 46:58
Yeah, he also gets to listen without having to kind of come up with a quippy retort, which all of the other characters have to do. Like he gets moments where he's allowed to kind of sit with things that have been said. And even if those moments are kind of, you know, chintzy, at times, at least it's sort of character work for him to play.
Alex Heeney 47:18
Well, and then the sort of function of that is, I feel like the film, I mean, the book to end up kind of really engaging in empathy. Like, theoretically, this is a story about women talking, and we're going to actually focus on women. But even the premise is like, if women sit in a room and talk and there isn't a man to record it did it happen. And
Orla Smith 47:40
which put us I think that's an interesting idea to engage with. The film does so meaningfully, and it raises all sorts of right, it raises all sorts of interesting ideas about like, how the way that he's recording their story might be, might be skewed towards his perspective, which is maybe you could do some interesting things within the film, where you're not literally reading his perspective, and you're watching him record these things. But the film wants to make him this very idealized character. And it kind of positions this dichotomy between like him as like the one good man and all the other men in the community as like, terrible, terrible rapists. Yeah, and doesn't find any kind of in between that a lot of men probably do fall into including probably realistically Auguste as much as he is a well meaning person.
Angelo Muredda 48:40
That's something I think that's a flaw of both the text and like the book and the film is that there's no real imagining of what the other men in the community are like, like, are the eight men who are perpetrating this? Are the outliers? Are they ostracized? Or they would all of them are like, what do they like in the daytime? What do they like when they're, you know, going through the rest of their rituals, there's no like, effort to kind of imagine how this sexual violence that they commit is a part of their lives, and a part of the way that they're oriented to the world, in their absence kind of creates a problem of making it seem more aberrant than it probably is.
Alex Heeney 49:18
Yeah. On the other hand, the book does give some more context that is makes it a little bit more ambivalent, like August like August report gives us a lot of the context of what's happened. And he reports that basically, the men were kind of locked up I mean, I guess this is in the film too, but that like the men were locked up in the colony, but then they women tried to kill them. So then they brought them to town to for to protect the men's life is why they're in prison in town, not to protect the women and every single man in town has been helping to bring bail to get these men out of jail including August. And August talks about like being childhood friends with some of the men that we, like at least one of the men who's locked up that we know is a perpetrator. And he kind of just shrugs his shoulders at this. He's like, Well, we had fun as a kid as kids, and I guess he's a rapist now.
Alex Heeney 50:15
And then the book also has, like, it does suggest that there are other aberrations, like because it basically treats August as the embodiment of not all men, and like, you know, his family was excommunicated. But in the book, there's also like a, this a man and his family who, after this happens, or while this stuff is starting to happen, he just operates his family and leaves the community. There's a lot of resentment towards the community leaders who they who everybody finds patriarchal, including men.
Alex Heeney 50:48
And so there's a lot more like, even though I would agree with you that they don't make them really characters. And they don't, they're not three dimensional people where you can kind of like, understand them and get into, you know, the banality of evil. They're just symbols of evil. At least the book suggests that there that there are shades and some nuances, which we get from August, telling us these stories. And that gets lost when August is no longer the narrator. And at least in the book, the fact that he's the narrator. I mean, it's kind of problematic that he's positioned as the the centerpiece because of that, like as a as a as a text. But then it's weird in the movie, because you're like, why do they keep cutting to him? And without knowing that he was the narrator in the book, it's like, I kind of thought this was the movie about the women talking. Why? Why do we keep needing to see Ben Whishaw reaction shots?
Angelo Muredda 51:49
And the movie does go out of its way toward the end to sort of explain why he needs to be the keeper of the notes anyway. But I think there's a textual reason why in the novel that is kind of absent in the film.
Alex Heeney 52:01
Yeah. I have
Orla Smith 52:03
a question. Yeah. Those who have read the book, is the like trends sub plot in the book, or was that made up for the film?
Alex Heeney 52:12
It's in the book, but it's a bit less explicit. So the plot is the same, but in the book, there's no identifying details really, about Nettie slash Melvin. So we find out that Nettie used to call themselves Nettie, then Nettie was raped now, nobody wants to be called Melvin, though there isn't all this stuff about people misgendering. Nettie and that the or Melvin and that being a conversation, all we know is that now they go by Melvin. And of course, August is not enlightened enough to talk about pronouns. And they dress in men's clothes, and they don't speak only speak to children. So it's a bit more like so that's in the book, and that we own the like, the big scene with Melvin is when one of the kids sticks a cherry up their nose, and Melvin brings the kid into the women talking to be like, This is an emergency, you need to deal with it. But they don't. There's no information about how Melvin presents or anything. And like the movie, if I recall correctly, has this whole discussion around, like, you know, was so traumatized by being raped that like, Nettie didn't want to be a girl anymore. And so now, nobody's trans or something, or maybe Neddy. Or maybe Melvin was trans already, and the rape, like just reinforce that you're never going to really be a man or something like that. And then there's a lot of stuff about the women who keep referring to them as Nettie whereas in that book, they just call them, they just say Melville, or Melvin or sometimes they call it or sometimes they refer to the character as Nettie Melvin. So it's much less of a like it's in there, but it's much less of a, like I pointed political statement about people have it being transphobic and misgendering trans people, it's just sort of like Melvin is just kind of like a quirky person in the community, which they don't really see as more quirky than the guy who is they refer to as slow so I guess this is kind of gross that the connection is with mental illness, but there's like a guy who they let like, use a tractor and just like run around, like mow around the colony in a tractor even though no one's allowed to use electric vehicles and you're like not even allowed to have rubber on your tires for the buggies because you'd move too fast. But they make these exceptions for this guy because they're like trying to help him In a difficult world, so that like, there's a lot of stuff about how there are always exceptions to the rules for men in the colony in the book, but then there are no exceptions to the rules for the women. And that gets totally lost in the film.
Orla Smith 55:15
Yeah, in the film, the subplot about Melbourne, it feels very, first of all, it feels like it's sort of just thrown in there so that they can like, acknowledge trans people. And it feels kind of patronizing in the way that they deal with it. I mean, in the film that like this is presented as like a trans man character, essentially. And the first of the idea that that is kind of triggered by a rape feels very, not how we necessarily want to talk about trans people. Also, the fact that he is a character who like only communicates with children leads to this kind of infantilized image. And then the biggest thing is the fact that this character who is not also not really a character, just like every character in the film, the big like, climax of the story is being correctly named by one of the main women characters. Yeah. As almost like a moment to show like, her development, but a development that like has not been in any way established, or setup or is not in any way meaningful. Yeah. And just, you know, I almost forget about that subplot. Because it is so disconnected from the rest of the film, and could just be lifted right out, but it's something about it just really sat poorly with me just in like, the way that many things about this film, and the way it tries to talk about social issues sits poorly with me.
Alex Heeney 56:58
Yeah. I mean, also something that was in that 2019 New York Times piece that I was quoting from before where they talked to some Mennonites. It actually talks about how so Toews comes from a Mennonite community called Steinbach. And in the New York Times article, it says Steinbeck has changed since Toews. left more than 35 years ago, it's more than doubled in size opened a liquor store, held a gay pride parade and build many more churches. So as his receptions to reception to her books in town has been mixed local say, there has not been an outpouring of criticism or anger from the community's elders. But there has definitely not been much celebration or pride that you think there would be said, Andrew Unger, a high school English teacher in Steinbeck, who includes Toews's novels in his courses. And he points out that she has not given a reading in town for 15 years. So even in 2019, it was suggesting that like Toews, was out of touch with what's happened in the Mennonite community, and like Sarah Polley had three years to correct that, and do her research and update it. And she kind of went the other way.
Angelo Muredda 58:12
I think to speak to Orla's point I like I feel the same about this character. And I think it's like it definitely to me, and maybe Alex, you, you've read more like you've gotten further in the novel than I have. But I'm admitting that I haven't finished the novel. To me, it feels more pointed in the film, there's an effort to explicitly characterize Melvin as trans that is a little bit different. In the novel, it's sort of left at the reading world that you mentioned that, you know, the sexual assault may somehow transforms Melbourne, which is, although that is sort of put in the mouth of Sallie Mae, Sallie Mae comes to that conclusion that that's what happened. So it sort of left us to take with a grain of salt, whether that's a correct interpretation or not, we don't actually get Melvin's interpretation of things. But my memory is that the film is more explicit into a clunky degree, right? That it's like, but actually, Melvin, Melvin, I think, okay, but who is Melvin? Right, and so, right, like it raises
Orla Smith 59:16
Melvin was always a blank slate code. Melson. Yeah,
Alex Heeney 59:20
short hair in overalls, who likes to do farming, which Yeah, and
Angelo Muredda 59:26
that sort of gets to me like a lot of these the efforts to include marginalized people within the community. I feel like the film Polley was going out of her way to include such people to represent them, but the text is so thin about them, and I don't know that she adds anything that's not already there. So for example, Melvin is the most obvious example and the correctly being named Melvin and not dead named is kind of the big conclusion to that story in a way that like to me, I was like, okay, is this a community that knows what dead naming is or cares about? that? I don't know. Yeah. But it's very similar to the way that disabled characters are depicted. So there's the disabled boy, yes, that's one stable boy who's not treated super well in the novel either. He's, he's discussed as like, he's gonna come along with the women because the disabled people in the community are not fit to be cared for by the men, right? The men are not going to know how to care for them. So they're going to come along with the women, if the women leave, he gets one line in the film that I don't know if that's I don't believe it's in the novel. His one line is why when they explain to him that he's gonna be leaving, there's the girl who is Frances McDormand character who is blind, I believe, who like a lot of the film hinges on whether she's going to leave or not, even though her mother has decided she's not going to leave, they're not going to participate in the town meeting. And like what I mean by I think Polley is earnestly trying to include these marginalized people like she's done the due diligence of casting disabled actors, both of those characters are played by disabled actors. So like checklist has been met and good for her for doing that. But the text is not interesting, right? Like there's nothing happening with those characters, on the level of like, giving them anything to do besides as like curious cases, for them to talk about as like entries on their list before the minutes are over. And I think like it's another example of like putting a BandAid on a technical problem that needs to actually be thought about and deepened. And I don't know that that's happened.
Alex Heeney 1:01:31
And they do in the book, they pretty much there's there is a line, I can't remember it exactly. But where it basically says they say they're, you know, they can't care for themselves. They're basically like children, which is a pretty offensive thing to say.
Angelo Muredda 1:01:46
And it's fine if they say it, right. Like, it's one thing for characters to be offensive. The question for me is like, Is that Yeah, saying anything more interesting than the characters right? Like did does the novel have no idea about their interiority? Does the film have any other interiority? No,
Alex Heeney 1:02:04
no? No, no, no. Because yeah, the novel and in the film depiction becomes endorsement, because it doesn't have any kind of commentary on this.
Orla Smith 1:02:15
And the way they're written as characters is basically just that just like is known characters who follow along with the people who are assigned to care for them, and have only said the word why. So like, in the way they're depicted, it doesn't at all contradict that.
Angelo Muredda 1:02:32
The one exception, right, is the blind girl deciding to come along. But even that, right, like the decision is like, her only expression of character that we see in the in the film.
Alex Heeney 1:02:42
Yeah, I think also, I mean, the same is true of August, too, that I'm still not sure whether Toews is making a commentary about how August's thinking is problematic because he was raised in a patriarchal society and hasn't properly learned to question it. Or if I'm bringing my own reading to the novel, and her depiction is kind of endorsement because I found his narrator in the book really punchable. Like, how he won't stop telling us that the women are illiterate. And I don't mean to point out the women are illiterate, but it's really important that you understand that for the context, like he, he says stuff like this all the time, and then, you know, brings in important facts that he learned while in jail. completing his university degree by correspondence, and he's, like, so condescending in the way he writes those notes. And I'm never really sure if he's, like, intentionally problematic, as a way of for Toews to prove the point that like, even the not all men dude has still absorbed the patriarchy. But I'm not like, I'm not totally convinced that that's what she's doing. And, and that she might just have no awareness of that. Yeah, either.
Angelo Muredda 1:04:02
I'm mixed on it, too. I think he's like, he's kind of an annoying reply guy, in some ways, like, I think he's meant to be a little bit annoying in the book.
Alex Heeney 1:04:14
Yeah, I think for sure, h's meant to be a little bit annoying
Angelo Muredda 1:04:17
but to what extent he's like seen as part of, you know, the same patriarchal culture as the other men, including the ones that he's going to be presumably teaching how to be better men once the women leave, right? They've sort of entrusted him with that job in both the film and the book. I don't know how much I don't know how much the text believes that he's of that same soup and have that same problem as they are.
Alex Heeney 1:04:42
When you said that there's some kind of maybe autobiographical portion of August is Toews's father?
Angelo Muredda 1:04:51
Yeah, I know that. I know that Toews' father was a teacher and was he Oh, So, I think lobbied to establish the first public library in Steinbeck. So he similarly was, you know, an upstanding member of the community who believed in education and who believed in education as a kind of gateway to a wider world beyond the world they were in and you know, presumably, was capable of entertaining ideas outside of the faith and outside of the community.
Angelo Muredda 1:05:22
And so I think Toews respects that, and she certainly in her novels, respects, people who, if even if they don't leave these insular communities, they have curiosity about communities outside of them, they're interested in reading, they're interested in going away for a while and becoming rounded before coming back. And so I think there is a kind of natural affiliation with him because of that. But there are moments I agree where it does feel like the text is letting us know that he's, if not an unreliable narrator, then a little bit of noxious at a minimum.
Alex Heeney 1:05:58
Were to begin with the mess. That is how badly this film is directed.
Orla Smith 1:06:05
And again, just to clarify, like we as seventh row have been fans of Sarah Polley as a director, like huge fans. I mean, we put stories we tell in our 10 favorite films of the 2010s list. Yeah, yeah, we like Sarah.
Alex Heeney 1:06:22
We like her a lot. Yeah, we've been like really excitedly anticipating this film.
Orla Smith 1:06:29
Yeah, we did a podcast on take this waltz as well. We really liked that film.
Alex Heeney 1:06:33
And we think she's made nuanced films about the inner lives of women that are beautifully made and wonderfully directed. And, like one of the, I think one of the really bizarre things, which I know a lot of people got stuck on, like the cinematography of the film, and how terrible the lighting is. And
Orla Smith 1:06:56
I mean, I think I think, specifically like the colour grading,
Alex Heeney 1:07:00
yeah. So But see, the funny thing about that is it's so it's shot. The DP is Luc Montpellier, who is known for colors. Like if you want your film to be bright and colorful, you hire him.
Orla Smith 1:07:12
Did he shoot take this waltz? Yes. And and it was the thing is take the shots is such a strikingly bright and colorful film. And we probably talked about that a lot on the podcast, and this is so much the opposite. Yeah,
Alex Heeney 1:07:24
it's so competently incompetent, that, you know, it wasn't his choice. Yeah, because if he was just incompetent, right, like, occasionally it would look okay.
Orla Smith 1:07:37
It's a strange looking film where it is. So desaturated to the point of almost being black and white, however, it isn't black and white. And there are a few moments out outside in the fields where a little bit of light comes in, and you kind of get the sense of the choice to make it so desaturated was so that you could have, especially at the end, the color kind of seeps back into the film vary slightly. And the choices can be made to like for that contrast. But it's also I think, the way that it is shot in such a kind of like, low contrast way makes that low color, almost black and white look very, very drab. Yeah. It's it. I mean, it clearly was a choice. But it was not a well executed choice. Yeah. And I don't necessarily think it was a choice worth whatever effect that and slight burst of color, which is like to clarify not an extreme burst of color, just like it raises to the level of like, almost a normal film. At the end.
Angelo Muredda 1:08:53
It's a strange looking film, for sure. I forget. Someone tweeted that it looked like it was inspired by Polish horror cinema the past 10 years. And I think that sort of thing ringing in my ears as I've been listening to the conversation about desaturated it is yeah, I I don't know. It's like a big formal Gambit that she takes doing that and I don't like you were saying or like, I don't know that it pays off. And I don't know that it feels like there's an organic purpose for it. And I kind of feel that way about a lot of the aesthetic decisions of the movie. It's a very directed movie, let's say right? Like there are a lot of there's a lot of the montages are over the top and constant. And every time a different speaker speaks. There's that musical motif that keeps up and it's sort of like the cameras slowly pushing into them as they start to speak. There's a real emphasis on these totemic images both the drawings that are done to illustrate the, the various decisions to leave to stay in fight to do nothing, as well as just like individual images. that are focused on and attend, attended to, and close up, like the dentures that one woman has. There's a lot going on aesthetically. And it feels to me, kind of similar to like, when someone is filming a stage play that they are concerned is going to read to stagey. And so they're really sort of the the post modernism and the like stylistic attempts to gussy it up. And so like, I really feel there's like too much going on here. And it feels like strangely out of place, compared to her other adaptations, which are, to me feel much more confident, and much more secure. And like I have a good read on this good material. And I trust the material to convey itself and I'm going to be classical and straightforward. This is kind of lacks that confidence. I think in it, it sort of feels like more of a calling card first feature than her previous three features do.
Alex Heeney 1:11:00
Seriously. Yeah. Well, also, I mean, it's a film that, that it's not just a film, but a story, I guess I should say, a text that is kind of like you could see it as a play, because it's effectively, you know, 10 people in a room talking, which is what you think of as a play. And film critics and film people love to talk about how when you when you direct a play for the screen, you have to quote unquote, open it up and find new locations and find ways of making it not stagey. Now, I think a lot of that is hogwash, because lots of great directors direct films that aren't plays, or based on plays that are in one location. And they aren't boring, because they care about the location. And because they're about the location and they know how to block in this film, it would have benefited from some like classical theater direction, techniques, like for example, levels, you know, one of the things you learn in, like, Intro to theater is about making tableaus and you know, some people are on the ground, and some people are standing and some people are sitting. And that makes for an aesthetically interesting thing in that you should place actors in ways and positions that tells you about the relationship between those characters. Like, if one is sitting at the feet of the other, then that tells you something. And if they're sitting on the same level, then that tells you something. And if somebody is standing, then that tells you something. And mostly in this film, they're all just kind of like sitting on, like wooden blocks. And I couldn't tell you where in the room they're sitting. Or I'm still not really sure who belongs which families belong to which because you almost never see two actors in the same frame at the same time, unless there's just a random frame of everyone in a disorganized mass. And like I recognize some of this is maybe a COVID thing. And that they're trying to take precautions and not put people that close together. But like, they must have been all maskless anyway, in a tiny room together. So
Orla Smith 1:13:17
yeah, I don't think they were, you know, at this stage trying to like, avoid COVID by like having them sit slightly further apart than they might otherwise. The thing about this film is, I watched the whole thing. And then at the end, there was sort of a, I think, some kind of white of the bond that allowed you to see the whole thing. Oh, really was my reaction. And my reaction was, Oh, is that what it looks like? Yeah, because I realized at that moment that I really had no idea of the geography of the barn. Yeah, of kind of what it looked like in its full context. And that's because the film in the way that it's directed, like it just gives you so little idea of like, the context of the space, to not be able to do that in the film that is, like, largely set in one room is a big problem. If people tell you that this film could be a play, then they're cursing us watch a very boring play.
Alex Heeney 1:14:25
Well, you know, I think it would work better as a play because no play a room is always a metaphor for something else. Where is it that film a room is just a room and the fact that there's it's like films that are successfully one location films or films where the location is part of the story? Like, this is the house that you spent the last 45 years of your life and 45 years for example. So all of the details in the house and the production design, in that film tell you something about the couple in their relationship and how their thing Thinking about it. So the location is part of the storytelling. It's not just like, we put them in a vacuum. And the problem with the book women talking, and then the film women talking is that they're both designed to be divorced from context. So then when you try and make a film that's like a one location film, like, the whole premise is that it's divorced from context. So maybe it would have worked as a play, because then the meta theatrical thing would have been that like this is, you know, this isn't a real Mennonite community. It's just a metaphor, and you know, whatever that would have been problematic in other ways. But yeah, movie, it really is just like a room. And I don't know what this room looks like. And I still have no idea what's in this community. Aside from that, there seems to be a patch of grass, but also the CGI out of the VFX, when you go like, look outside of the barn onto the field is so bad that I know the barn was shot in a studio. And then I know they went somewhere random and got a field. And the field is like maybe the size of a soccer field. And to me, that is the entirety of this Mennonite community.
Orla Smith 1:16:14
But it is true that there are relationships also between the characters in this bond, like I think it's several different families. And there are like their mother daughter relationships in this one, for example. And it took me such a long time to get even slightly a slight grasp on the relationship between these people, even though that should be incredibly important. So it was like the character just kind of islands talking to each other, but you don't get a sense of their relationship to each other. And you definitely don't get a sense of their relationship to the rest of the community. Because the other question I have is, like, why these women? And what is the implication of like these specific women speaking for their entire community, which is something that the film has like zero interest in,
Alex Heeney 1:17:00
I don't think, answers that either
Angelo Muredda 1:17:02
it kind of comes up, right, but only they decided to show up for this meeting that others have decided that, you know, they'll kind of go with what's decided, but they have chores to do there. They don't want to rock the boat, but they will accept whatever, you know, the central and shell intelligence of the room decide. So that's kind of as deep as it goes in the book from what I remember.
Orla Smith 1:17:25
And I think in the film is explicitly said that these women were chosen as like a committee to discuss this. It's not that anyone else was invited. And it brings up all these questions about like, what kind of power dynamics does that replicate? And that's not at all explored, because at the end, when they make their decision, which definitely not everyone in the community agrees with, because that's evidence to Francis McDormand character, but it's also like evidence through the fact that they did do a vote. And it was very split. Everyone just kind of is like, well, I guess that's a decision we made. And I guess we're rooting our entire lives, even though we haven't had the chance to process that, like these women have. And it's, it's something that could have been so enjoy. I mean, there's a lot of things in this film that could have been so interesting. And I just dropped in favor of a much easier to digest narrative.
Alex Heeney 1:18:21
Yeah, like, I think the premise of put a bunch of women in a room and have them discuss patriarchy. Like there's a lot of there's a lot of opportunity there. I think that's up, you know, you could have 50 plays about that, where that's the premise, and they would be really interesting. But then by forcing it to be a Mennonite community, and then not engaging with what it means to be a Mennonite, you know, all of the issues that we talked about, it kind of makes it impossible to do this properly.
Orla Smith 1:18:52
It tries to make it as universal as possible, and a way to like, talk about a big concept in a very general way. Yeah. And I think maybe that's a good way to get an Oscar. Yeah, but it's also at this point, we don't need another story about this kind of stuff that removes all of the specificity of it. Like it's doesn't reveal anything. I don't think
Angelo Muredda 1:19:17
it's curious that the only people besides mcdormand that we see reacting in the negative to the decision are actually the sons right one of the sons says basically, that he's upset with a decision that's been made on his behalf and it would be it would be more interesting to hear what the other women in the community have to say but that's kind of beyond the scope of the structure of of either the book or the movie right? Because they're they're not in the room so they don't have a mic to speak. I feel like what like, I don't know that it feels very CanLit to me outside of like it kind of feels of a piece with Zoey when all wrote a novel, kind of just pre this explosion of me to narrative that the Less people we know is that what it's called? Something like that. That similarly is about Yeah, I know. Yeah. It's like a highly respected male senior member of a community is found guilty of sexual assault, and it sort of ripples throughout the community and through his family. It felt like this text was kind of a piece of that. And it's sort of like, part of this kind of CanLit doing topical stories in the now. But to me, it feels more like, like more than CanLit it's like, filmic antecedents, right? Like it's like it's doing 12 Angry Men. It's doing like Stanley Kramer message movies more than it's doing. CanLit for say, it's the best kind of people. There we go. Yeah, thank you. What did I say the best people we know. I don't know what happened there.
Alex Heeney 1:20:49
I couldn't remember any film titles today. You're You're doing fine.
Angelo Muredda 1:20:51
The other thing it reminded me of and I know I think I was gonna say I know she's a fan. I don't know if she's a fan. But I think she spoke about it. Is that Doc, the Canadian doc a better man. That's kind of what some of the Ben Whishaw as the like the best possible man, we can present an offer up for the community. That's kind of what I was reminded of. And like the conversation about the rehab, the potential rehabilitation of the young men in the community through him and felt like that was sort of a text in in her mind.
Alex Heeney 1:21:25
I mean, but at least that documentary, like the guy is doing the work, and he's screwing up and it's about how very difficult it is for him even like, and it creates empathy for him, but it never lets him off the hook.
Angelo Muredda 1:21:39
Yeah, that's all I got it. I mean, there are other CanLit origins you could point to like, certainly, like, I think of like the Margaret Lawrence's novels and Manawaka certainly have like, women who are victims of abusive men making decisions about leaving or staying and discoursing about it and writing about it. And like, that's part of the same prairie context and like, earlier stuff, like you go away, but like prairie realism and ask for me and my house, but what's different about this is that like this, as we've said, it's like nonspecific and like, that can let tradition that some people have said Toews' stuff fills into is realist, and is centered on regionalism, and like, it's very much about depicting what the land looks like, and what the traditions of the people who live there are like, and all of that is absent here. Right? It's like completely exserted it completely excised from the movie, as well as the novel. Yeah, that's just my ramble to say, No, I don't think there's a lot of interesting candidates.
Alex Heeney 1:22:44
I mean, the one thing for me is it both the film and the book kind of had the stench to me of too much hanging out with Margaret Atwood. Yeah, it's definitely like it just feels. It just feels like The Handmaid's Tale and the like, oh, wow, you know, the act of resistance of writing. And that, that, that, like, the whole device kind of feels stolen from that. And there are bits and pieces in the novel where I was like, is that a reference to this particular Margaret Atwood poem?
Angelo Muredda 1:23:12
And even like, Alias Grace, I mean, I know Sarah Polley is already adapted that but I feel like they're women's quilting is sort of the way that they do like here, it's women talking in a room, they are women quilt as a way of telling their stories of abuse that like it's a language that other women are able to follow, but the men in the story don't are not able to follow it. This sort of feels like it's doing a version of that and a different discursive field. Yeah, yeah. So there are things like that. I think like, it's certainly got contemporary cam with like, at wedding company on its mind, but I don't know that it's doing anything that interesting with it.
Orla Smith 1:23:51
But why is the film gonna win many Oscars? Which I think is part of the reason one of the reasons we want to talk about it is that people really liked this film. And it's being held up as a example of a great way to discuss these ideas. And I think that every year, there's always at least one, if not a few Oscar films that I think follow this pattern of like, we are going to become a claimed by talking about something social justice related, that explores that problem in a way that one social Yes, it will simply reflect the already held beliefs of the viewer and not challenge them at all. And I think that's absolutely the case here. I think it was the case with something like promising young woman, to be honest, probably the case for something like the whale this year as well only by the fact that it's reflecting the already held beliefs of the viewer. It's reflecting the already held incredibly gross beliefs of the viewer. And this
Alex Heeney 1:25:06
sort of pat yourself on the back that you're not so bad. Like, that happens a lot with movies that deal with racism, you're like, well, at least I didn't call this, you know, you know, I didn't use that racial slur. Ergo, I am innocent of racism. This film is sort of like, well, we don't live in a society that says, you know, basic and patriarchal as Mennonites, even though this film is not really interested in Mennonites, and so then you can pat yourself on the back that, you know, at least we have me too. And I've participated in that. And
Orla Smith 1:25:43
I mean, this film is not as bad as Green Book. Well, no. But it it also has the edge of being a bit more intellectual thing. Yeah, back. And so it's able to kind of cover up the ways in which it is very, very simplistic.
Alex Heeney 1:26:01
I mean, I think that's where you're like comparison to promising young woman is really apt because we did do an episode on promising young woman and the assistant and we talked about this very issue that like, the assistant dealt with rape culture, in a very subtle way that put you in this woman's headspace of the, you know, million paper cuts of patriarchy and misogyny that she experiences in the workplace every day and becomes complicit in because she has only bad choices available to her. And we, you know, we were like that movie is brilliant. And that felt visceral, and it made me think, and it felt like it depicted something that no one's talked about before. And then you have promising one young woman, which is sort of the most thoughtless approach to this. It's also louder and show we're
Orla Smith 1:26:58
satisfying than the assistant
Alex Heeney 1:27:00
Well, yeah, cuz there's somebody gets a come up in, but it's also like, it's a movie that's like, look, I'm here directing, look, I am here acting, unlike the assistant, which was, you know, very naturalistic. And, you know, as Angelo points out about women talking, it's certainly has been directed. So there's like a sort of, you know, it's sort of like sound of metal, it was like, Oh, I now know what sound design is. Because the film explained it to me in every scene. It's kind of like, like, it's talking down to the audience enough. So you don't have to think at all. And then it has the cathartic we get to leave it and find a better society. Slash also pat ourselves on the back for already being in that society, maybe? Well,
Orla Smith 1:27:42
I think it was a to sort of, quote, unquote, post me to films that are in the Oscar Oscar conversation this year at this film. And she said, and I wrote it the both produced by brand new production company. So that's just bad timing. I did when when, when Plan B logo showed up at the beginning of women talking, I felt a moment of like, huh, this is awkward. And I was like, do the other people in the cinema feel that? Because I feel like they should. But
Alex Heeney 1:28:20
do you want to mean for the audience, especially if somebody listens to this in two years? And is like, when was this recorded?
Orla Smith 1:28:28
Yeah, I mean, there's currently a lot of ongoing, I guess, legal disputes about whether, like Brad Pitt was abusive in his relationship with Angelina Jolie, and there is a restraining order out against between him and his children. So that's, that's currently a thing that, I suppose is still being litigated in public discourse. So if you are listing in a few more years that might be more widely known. And I feel like it's becoming more widely known at the moment. That's conversation we're having right now. And this is a very strange time to be having it, given that he is produced the the film's called women talking, and she said, but yes, she said, is a film that actually explicitly about me too. insensitive is about the two journalists who uncovered the Weinstein story, and did the First Republic published reporting on it. And I is I don't think it necessarily missteps as frequently or in the same way as women talking does. I think it's a better film. I don't think it's a particularly good film. It's very kind of just like, process focus, but it also feels very stagey in the way they do reenactments of these conversations. I've read the book that it's based on. I found the book very compelling. It's written by the two journalists And the thing about the film is, well, the thing about the book is the book ends. I mean, the book, the actual, like publishing of the story happens about halfway through the book. And then the second half of the book talks a lot about like the aftermath of publishing the story. It then goes on to talk about the whole, like, Brett Kavanaugh thing with Christine Blasi Ford, which the same journalist also reported on and then it has a roundtable discussion with the women who spoke out about Weinstein, and, like, transcribed that conversation about them sort of talking about, like, everything that happened after that story was reported. So the book kind of does grapple a bit with like, okay, so this big breakthrough happened, but to what extent has the culture changed afterwards? And what impact has that reporting had, and it's a bit more of a interesting and nuanced conversation about that. And the book, the film ends, the moment they hit publish on the story. Like literally, they press Publish, and then the film is over. And, and it really frustrated me, because it sort of felt like the film wanted to be like an exact document of like this reporting, and then to end at the moment that can feel the most triumphant, like, simplistically triumphant. And it didn't want to have any of the more complex conversations about like, what society looks like today after this reporting happened, and whether things changed as much as we might want them to have changed. And the the fact that the film was produced by Brad Pitt's production company might imply that maybe it hasn't changed quite as much as we might like to think that it has. But they've both fit. They're interested in conversation with each other women talking and she said, just because I feel like they want to, they they want to take very difficult things and make them as like affirming to the audience as well for you as possible. And as sort of feel good as you can make a film about women being assaulted at the end. And it just feels so kind of Yeah, uninteresting to me. Because it's not like pushing us to have conversations we might be more uncomfortable with.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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