REEL Review – Pieces of a Woman (2020)

Director: Kornél Mundruczó | 2h 6mins | Drama

After a home-birth ends in tragedy, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) tries to navigate her life consumed by grief. When the event continues to loom over everybody, Martha’s relationships with her family become fractured.

Mundcrudzo and Weber’s devastating drama is an acquired taste. One that captures unrelenting grief in all forms, but one that also has very little in the way of story and supporting depth. It lingers reflectively and honestly on different versions of the same pain, something that’s incredibly hard to portray in a film. We saw Lonergan and Affleck capture something special in Manchester By the Sea and, while Mundcrudzo’s attempt is poorly supported by a weak legal battle, Pieces of a Woman is fantastic at capturing the sudden impact of grief and the emptiness it leaves you. 

The opening scene is one of masterful technique, a single shot that starts with early contractions all the way to the labour itself – including the devastating event that becomes the catalyst for the film’s narrative. Many time’s single shots can be gimmicky. Sure, they’re interesting most of the time but when a film has genuine reason for it, it’s all the more impressive. What this immaculate opening does is create such an importance and engagement with both the relationship of Sean (LaBeouf) and Martha (Kirby), as well as their journey to become parents. So, when tragedy strikes and the two are left childless, their paths become excruciating to watch. 

Sean’s journey is a brutally self-destructive one, he can’t connect to Martha anymore and as a recovering addict he can’t help but relapse. His involvement in the film is somewhat anticlimactic, but it’s also honest. His trajectory sees him become all-consumed by the grief, unable to cope with what’s been stripped away from him. Out of the two characters this is the least complex, but Shia LeBeouf is giving his all as he has done in all of his roles of recent times, wonderfully capturing both the pain and anger of Sean. But, as the film’s title suggests, Martha’s journey is the most important. 

The film is at its best when exploring the fragmented and scattered aftermath of such a crushing loss, it’s not often we watch a film that’s so brutal in its honesty and starts with such a magnificent bang.

A takeaway that most will have from Pieces of a Woman is the performance from Vanessa Kirby. Playing a character that’s going through such complex grief demands that it be played with care. Something Kirby takes in her stride and nails with delicacy and maturity. Every inch of Martha’s journey; whether it be the frustration of her mother’s prying, the disconnect from personal relationships or the physical changes of maternity happening without her child – Vanessa Kirby carries the heavy load that her character demands. 

The problems with the film begin to mount up as it’s 2 hour plus run time begins to feel dragged out. Lingering in the background is a courtroom drama involving Martha’s last minute replacement midwife, Eva (Molly Parker), who is being blamed for the child’s death (at the insistence of her Mother played wonderfully by Ellen Burstyn). It feels completely fabricated in the face of such an emotionally driven film, and despite the narrative thread leading to quite a powerful monologue by Kirby, it still taints the emotional dissection the film is trying to project – making the end product a lot weaker because of it. 

The film is at its best when exploring the fragmented and scattered aftermath of such a crushing loss, it’s not often we watch a film that’s so brutal in its honesty and starts with such a magnificent bang. But, Mundcrudzo and Weber can’t help but try to bulk up their story with needless side characters, and an over-flashiness peaks after the first 20 minutes.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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