Hildur Guðnadóttir (‘Women Talking’ composer) on evoking ‘both a doomsday and call to prayer’ with haunting acoustics [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I wanted everything to be very tangible and acoustic and earthy,” reveals Oscar and Emmy-winning Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker,” “Chernobyl”) about her score for the upcoming “Women Talking.” For our recent webchat she adds, “there are scenes that you need to have a sense of dread for forward movement and drums somehow just really took me out of the earthiness of the  place. So I ended up using the guitar as a percussive element as well,” she explains “This film was also kind of like both a doomsday and call to prayer at the same time. I wanted the bells to be present for that and the percussive elements of the guitar lead us through the more uncomfortable scenes.” We talked with Guðnadóttir as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” Q&A event with 2022/2023 awards contenders. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

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In “Women Talking,” the women of an isolated religious community dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault perpetrated by the colony’s men as they grapple with reconciling the harsh reality of their oppression with their unwavering faith and steadfast commitment. Written and directed by Oscar nominee Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”) based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Miriam Toews, the drama stars Oscar nominee Rooney Mara, Emmy winner Claire Foy, Oscar nominee Jessie Buckley, Emmy nominee Judith Ivey, Emmy winner Ben Whishaw, and four-time Oscar winner and two-time Emmy winner Frances McDormand.

Despite the serious and often confronting subject matter explored in “Women Talking,” Guðnadóttir’s score often turns to uplifting melodies as a counterpoint. These elements strike a strangely discordant note among the more austere elements that drive the unflinching and resilient women at the center of the film’s narrative and their steadfast faith and unwavering commitment to each other as a community. The composer intentionally leans into more buoyant and hopeful melodies as a way to infuse the film with some light, which is a somewhat a risky proposition that ends up defying the audience’s expectations.

“There needed to be elements of ugliness, and ugliness is perhaps not the right word, but elements that were not beautiful, elements that were uncomfortable,” the composer explains. “Nonetheless, you’re dealing with things that happened in real life, so I think it’s always really important to be respectful to the people that lived these events. You don’t want to sugar coat anything, but it’s really important not to dramatize what happened, but to be honest and to be respectful. So it was a fine balance for the music, I think, to find a way to approach the hope in such a hopeless situation that’s with respect. So I ended up just pouring all the love that I had into this score, and I hope that I did it justice.”

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