Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 2 minutes, Director – Kornél Mundruczó
A young mother (Vanessa Kirby) struggles to come to terms with the death of her newborn child, as the months go on her relationships with her partner (Shia LaBeouf) and mother (Ellen Burstyn) become tense.
Pieces Of A Woman has rightfully been praised for the 23 minutes one-shot birth scene that acts as one of its opening scenes. As Vanessa Kirby’s Martha groans, cries and belches in pain as her child is being born everything feels natural and real. It’s not over and done with in a minute or two with a happy, healthy successful birth and little worry. The lack of score pushes the realism of the scene and the emotions that the three characters present – including Martha’s partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and midwife Eva (Molly Parker) – are rushing through as the situation becomes worse. However, less than a minute after the birth the worst possible tragedy occurs, the baby turns blue and is quickly lost. It’s the devastating finishing punch of what is already an emotional, and technically impressive, opening.
As the autumnal and winter months follow – pushing the feeling of the cold and isolation in the lives of the central characters – tensions rise in Martha’s relationships. The film focuses on the depressions that the characters fall into, and the responses that each figure has to this. Martha becomes quiet and reclusive, a lost soul floating through an uncertain world of loss, made worse by the changes in her relationship with Sean. He becomes abusive, increasingly angry when he believes he can’t get any proper responses from his partner – when she begins to take down items in the room that was meant for he lashes out at the dead-pan response of “because we don’t have a kid”. Meanwhile, Martha’s mother, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), experiences a much more expressional form of emotional response. She delivers emotional monologues and tries to get her daughter to display something that resembles an outer sadness.
While director Kornél Mundruczó – making his English language feature debut – truly leaves a mark with the opening scenes once the film’s remaining 90 minutes arrive things don’t quite have as much of an impact. Kata Wéber’s screenplay looks into the separate personal reactions and behaviours of various characters instead of keeping the focus on Martha. We see Sean’s affair with her cousin. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s attempt to sue midwife Eva for killing her grandchild – original midwife Barbara was unavailable when the birth was happening, and so sent trusted Eva in her place – goes against her daughter’s wishes. The film might fall in the mid-section, however when it comes to the courtroom scenes things are brought back up and the drama of the conversations throughout the film is truly felt.
When looking into such elements the mother-daughter scenes truly stick out. The two great performances that show the truthful developments of the characters emotions simply raise something all the more investing during such scenes. Kirby and Burstyn show two very different forms of depression, both of which can’t understand the other and simply causes further upset and frustrations. Such moments, are what keep the core interest in the film and stop things from completely falling apart. The film might still feel busy overall, however such moments help to give it a sense of pace and development that you can get more invested in than others. For much of the piece its the performances that truly bring about the drama and emotion that is held in a number of scenes. While there might be points where the film dips as the film comes back to focus on Kirby, who delivers a consistently brilliant performance of inner-emotions and depression, there’s true power end effect in play. The film itself might not be consistent, but Kirby certainly is.
After the impressive one-shot birth scene there’s a fluctuating style to Pieces Of A Woman. It works best when focusing on the power of Kirby’s performance, and the responses to different kinds of depression, is enough to bring you back in after the slight dips of other, wavering focuses.