While Laetitia Colombani worked in film for 15 years before writing her novel "The Braid," she never actually thought it would be a movie, but now we have an on-screen adaptation, with Grey's Anatomy star Kim Raver, alongside Mia Maelzer and Fotinì Peluso.
Currently in select theatres, the film tells the stories of three women from Canada, India and Italy, which have been weaved, or braided, together into one powerful and intimate narrative.
As Colombani explained, when she initially wrote the novel, she had been looking for a "new experience," away from her film career, and she had be travelling and talking to women around the world.
"I was really moved each time to learn about what they were facing in their life," Colombani told Yahoo Canada. "I thought I should write something about women from different cultures, different parts of the world, different continents, and I thought writing a novel would allow me more freedom."
"I couldn't imagine it would be successful [as a film] because it was three stories, an 'untouchable' woman in India cleaning toilets, a young worker in Italy facing the bankruptcy of the workshop, and in Canada, a woman confronted to breast cancer. I thought, it can be really dark, so there won't probably be a wide audience for that, but I don't care, I want to tell a story that is very intimate, very personal."
When the novel was published and she saw success around the world, translated into 40 languages with over five million copies sold, Colombani discovered how universal the stories of these women really are.
What is 'The Braid' about?
Northern India is where we meet Smita (Maelzer), considered a Dalit, referred to as "untouchables" in the film, at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Smita's core goal is to allow her young daughter to have an education, so they run away to the South, so her daughter can be afforded more opportunities.
Then we meet Giulia (Peluso), a young woman working at her father's factory that makes wigs in Puglia, Italy. But when he falls, ill Giulia discovers that her father had been hiding the company's bankruptcy. Giulia is left to figure things out for her family, and her colleagues at the factory.
Lastly there's Sarah (Raver), a busy lawyer in Montreal who's trying to balance work obligations with spending time with her children, after her divorce. But things shift when she gets an unexpected, and particularly unfortunately timed, cancer diagnosis.
While we see each woman face her own personal hardship throughout the story, Colombani still wanted to leave that reader, and now the audience, with a sense of "hope."
"I'm a very optimistic person, so I wanted to show difficult situations women are confronted [with], but in the same time, I wanted to leave the audience with high hopes that they would get better lives, because of their courage and their strength," Colombani said.
"One [reader] wrote to me that the novel had given her the strength to continue to fight against cancer. ... She read the book and she said, 'No I will continue this fight,' which was so moving for me. So I hope the audience has the same feeling towards the movie. ... We live in a very unfair world, so unfair towards women. But I do hope it's going to change and I think little actions can be important."
'Men and women, we really need to talk and to work together for a better society'
For the filmmaker, there was also a real commitment to making the movie look as "real" as possible.
"That's the reason why we didn't shoot anything in studio, it's on a natural set," Colombani said. "I wanted the audience to identify with the three of them, which was the main challenge for me as a director, because it's three stories, but it is one movie."
"I wanted ... my audience to feel close to Smita and to Giulia, and to Sarah, in very different ways. I can say that these characters are three versions of myself at different levels, and I knew the movie would be good if and if only we could identify with these three stories."
As Colombani explained, when she wrote the novel she had three elements in mind to symbolize each character. For Smita it's the earth, for Giulia it's the water and for Sarah it's ice.
"I talked a lot with Ronald Plante, my cinematographer, on the three parts of the movie," she said.
"Even though the reader doesn't really notice consciously these elements, I wanted these elements to be in the movie. ... He did a great job ... because we needed the three parts to be very specific, with a very strong identity on the screen. At the same time, it should be mixed all together in a nice way."
Music was another component that was critically important in Colombani's adaptation of her novel to screen.
"The most powerful movies that struck me as a spectator were all movies with a very strong score ... and so I decided, to help me with this narration, I want to Ludovico Einaudi, who's such a wonderful, Italian composer," Colombani said. "I told him, your music will be my pen, your music will be the link, and he completely understood that."
In terms of what the author and filmmaker hopes people take from her story, she hopes it sparks discussions, particularly between men and women.
"The book was more specifically read by women, the movie is concerning a wider audience ... and many of them told me that they talked a lot after the movie," Colombani shared. "Men and women, we really need to talk and to work together for a better society."
"So I'm very happy if the movie helps this discussion and creates discussions."