TIFF 2022: How Cinema Shaped ‘Women Talking’

Canadian cinematographer Luc Montpellier said portraying abuse and rehabilitation in the highly anticipated film “Women Talking” required a thoughtful approach, using light, color and formats different screens to represent the “seismic shift” that such abuses can create in the community.

As director of photography for the film, Montpellier told that it was important that the cinematography captures the “horrifying weight” of the decision the women face, but also states turn on hope for its conclusion.

“We wanted to create an almost gothic image that supports the idea of ​​these women’s unwavering beliefs… and how they’re trying to grapple with the reality that their worlds are being torn apart. cancel ahead of them based on a Montpellier said in a phone interview on Friday.

“But they are also trying to create a new world.”

“Women Talking” stars Frances McDormand, Claire Foy and Rooney Mara, and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday before opening worldwide on December 2.

Directed by Canadian Sarah Polley – her first film in nearly a decade – the film is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’ popular novel of the same name about a group of women reeling from multiple counts of abuse. newly discovered sexual abuse in their Mennonite colony, gathering in a haystack to discuss coping: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.

Canadian cinematographer Luc Montpellier appeared on the set of ‘Women Talking’ directed by Sarah Polley. (Photo: Tram Kolluri / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios / Kingmaker Communications)

Montpellier said he worked closely with Polley, and in consultation with Toews, to ensure the cinematography included the director’s vision but remained true to the book.

“The fact that these women are basically trying to figure out what they’re going to do and take control of their lives is to me it’s super important to be able to show in the photo,” he said.

To do this, Montpellier said they shot in the traditional widescreen format that takes the film’s history to represent the colony itself. He said this form also makes the audience feel like they have been “sucked” into the world of women.

“Not everyone understands how the Mennonite colonies work. A lot of these women were uneducated and… the way we shot the colonies was a bit of an understatement of a very traditional radical way of life. “, I said.

Additionally, Montpellier said he chose to desaturate nearly all of the colors in the film to “support this idea of ​​the lives of living women.”

“The more muted palette provides this gothic image that makes you feel like their lives are pretty limited but also in a very non-judgmental way,” he says.

However, Montpellier said he wanted the pictures taken outside the haystack to show hope and show “the beauty of what women can leave behind.”

With these scenes, he added more color through the use of different lights. Lighting options also represent the limited time women have to make their decisions, he said.

“I had to literally map out and create how the light would shift. There’s a scene in the middle where the sun is finally going down on the horizon, and that’s pretty much on the ladder with decisions being made. given and added hope Visual tension about what these women need to do pretty quickly because the men can come back at any time,” he explains.

Canadian cinematographer Luc Montpellier appeared on the set of ‘Women Talking’ directed by Sarah Polley. (Photo: Tram Kolluri / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios / Kingmaker Communications)


While the film features emotionally complex performances by the cast, Montpellier says the camera acts on its own as a character.

“The whole movie… it’s almost like an allegory… There’s this quote at the beginning of the movie that says, ‘This is an act of the female imagination,’ because the film takes that form,” he said. “I feel a lot of responsibility to try to make choices like this, instead of being passive with photography.”

Montpellier said the novel on which the film is based really inspired his filming choices. While someone reading the novel might picture the characters and settings with their imagination, he explained that the film asks to express those elements but in a way that evokes emotions much like the literature. copy.

“Our work is different in the cinema… we don’t always have dialogue,” says Montpellier. “[A film] is through visuals, it’s not just what you’re imagining in your head. “

He noted that it was important to the crew that the core ideas of the novel remained intact and that cinematic elements were used to highlight those themes.

“We needed to re-imagine it as a movie so that when you sit there for 90 minutes, we’re visually using everything at our disposal to make you feel a lot like the book,” says Montpellier. made many people feel.”

He added that Toews approved of their photo shoot.

“One day, Miriam came to visit us on set, and we were showing her some of the scenes we had shot and she burst into tears because it was beyond her imagination,” Montpellier said.

Canadian cinematographer Luc Montpellier appeared on the set of ‘Women Talking’ directed by Sarah Polley. (Photo: Tram Kolluri / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios / Kingmaker Communications)


As a man, Montpellier admitted that he felt lost at first and needed to “find an entry point” in the film.

“It was a movie called ‘Women Talking.’ Obviously, I’m a man. I’ve been conditioned in our world in a very different way than women; we have different lives. So that’s really important to me. is to understand this materialistic approach,” he explains.

Montpellier said he even offered to work with a female cinematographer. However, Polley told him he was just part of a broader conversation.

“One thing she said to me was ‘Listen, this movie isn’t just about women; it’s about everyone’… And it shows in the movie – [Polley] really challenged all of our roles, the way men interact with women, the way women interact with men… so that’s what I hope to take away from this film,” said Montpellier. speak.

While the film is a critique of patriarchal oppression, Montpellier notes that its message extends beyond secular culture.

“‘Women Talking’ is essentially the start of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about gender roles and the kind of responsibilities we all have – not just women, but also,” Montpellier said. men – must change the story.”

“The movie really feels like it’s trying to change things, and for me too, if we could just go on [discussions] after the credits roll, I think we’ve done our job here. “

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