Grief is the subject of director Kornél Mundruczó latest film Pieces of a Woman from Netflix. Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change when a home birth ends in unimaginable tragedy. Martha begins a yearlong odyssey, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with Sean and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn). Not to mention the publicly vilified midwife Eva (Molly Parker), whom she must face in court.
I sat down to view Pieces of a Woman blind without ever seeing the trailer. I had an initial what the film was about from the plot summary and liked the cast. Primary I wanted to see Vanessa Kirby in something dramatic after her roles in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
The opening twenty-four minutes of the film where we watch Martha give birth is realistic and shot in one take. Director Kornél Mundruczó puts us in the room with Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) as we watch the experience of childbirth.
After Martha loses her baby and begins the process of grief, Kirby gets a chance to flex her acting muscle. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes numerous awards lists. As I viewed Kirby’s performance, it’s crystal clear that Kirby’s research for the film paid off. The actress spent time with numerous women who had lived through the same kind of tragic loss that Martha suffers in the movie. There are also moments where Kirby goes through all the stages of grief.
The second most robust film performance is Ellen Burstyn, who portrays Martha’s mother, Elizabeth. Burstyn wants the best for her daughter but on a mother’s terms and not her daughter’s terms. In comparison, the script by Ansuman Bhagat & Kata Wéber does show Elizabeth as overbearing but never to the point where I was not too fond of the character. Burstyn has a monologue in the film’s third act that explains her character’s way of thinking.
Kudos to the directors for their handling of vilified midwife Eva (Molly Parker), who appears in the film’s beginning and doesn’t show up again until the film’s final act. The directors could have quickly humanized Eva, but instead, they want us to have the same feelings towards her that Martha does.
Finally, as our male lead, we have Shia LaBeouf as Sean. Shia continues to provide quality work as an adult. Shia tapes into an alpha male dealing with grief in his way and his issues with manhood. There are choices that Shia’s character makes that I disagreed with. Still, I feel that was the director’s intent as the character does have an ending arc that provides closure.
Given that the director is Hungarian, the film does briefly focus on Hungarian culture. I can also tell that the movie’s tone may appeal more to Hungarian audiences, despite taking in America. I did find the film overlong, and there aren’t real moments that match the intensity of the opening sequence. Pieces of a Woman may also be a bit much for some viewers as the film can be depressing.
While Pieces of a Woman does feature an Award-worthy performance from our lead actress, I’m not going to recommend the film to mainstream filmgoers. In context, Pieces of a Woman is a film that not everyone will get due to the content. However, those who love slow-burning dramas and foreign movies should appreciate Piece of a Woman.
Final Grade B-
Pieces of a Woman is streaming on Netflix now.