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GOSSIP & RUMORS: For ‘Women Talking’ at the Toronto film festival, an urgency to listen

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Years out from her most recent film, director and screenwriter Sarah Polley says she felt an urgency to bring a story of rape and rebuilding to the big screen.

Based on a book by Miriam Toews, “Women Talking” tells the story of women members of a cloistered Mennonite community debating how to respond to a series of systematic rapes perpetuated by men in their community. Do nothing? Stay and fight? Leave, even if it means losing the only home they have known?

Reading it was “one of the most intense reading experiences I’ve ever had,” Polley told reporters Tuesday.

“In this book they’re talking about what they want to build, not just what they want to destroy. And it seemed like there was a path in this story through the rage … landing somewhere else and somewhere possible and somewhere that was in the realm of what the human imagination can create in terms of a better world.”

It was an intense experience for the actors, as well, they said.

“It was vulnerable and it was also a very safe environment” to take on roles involving surviving sexual violence, said actor August Winter.

“I think these things happen all the time without us knowing, and it isn’t until we start talking about it that it’s brought to our attention. Even in today’s world where there’s so much media, there’s so much we still miss.”

The aim was to make the film’s cinematography as epic as the decision the women are trying to make, said cinematographer Luc Montpellier. The film uses muted colours, he said, and tries to convey the weight and uniformity of the community’s faith.

“We came up with this very Gothic, kind of desaturated palette that hopefully communicates that, like a supporting actor.”

The story will always be relevant, Polley said, but she thinks the public is getting better at both talking about sexual assault and listening.

“The conversations that have happened over the last several years, they don’t go nowhere. I mean, has the world changed as much as we would have liked it to? Of course not. In many ways it’s gone backwards,” she said.

“But I think the more we have language for things, the more we’re having these conversations, the more we’re finding words for what was hard to articulate, I think that’s a path somewhere.”

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Michael Perry)

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