The first big feature film highlight of 2021 starts on Netflix on January 7th. In PIECES OF A WOMAN Vanessa Kirby goes through the drama of child loss in all its facets – which is equal parts great tragedy and overwhelming beauty. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Pieces of a Woman (CAN/HUN/USA 2020)
Boston couple Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are about to become parents. But her life changes radically after her planned home birth ends in tragedy. This begins a year-long odyssey for Martha in which she not only has to deal with her grief, but also with the strained relationships with Sean and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn). In addition, she has to face the midwife (Molly Parker), who has been vilified by the public, in court.
Nowadays, discussions about films (and indeed any other form of pop culture) often only take place in a very abbreviated form. The evaluation is carried out using school grades, percentage points or smileys; the content analysis is limited – if at all – to individual scenes or superlatives; This or that film is either the best or worst of all time, we know that. Of course, this is not the case everywhere and not every medium provides detailed essays on every new cinema or streaming release. In a television guide that has to rate as many films as possible for a very broad audience, there is simply no room for a page-long discussion of every single detail. And so “The Revenant” becomes “the film in which Leonardo DiCaprio fights with a bear”, the science fiction film “Possessor” was only so hyped last year because it was oh so brutal (the Scenes in which things get bloody don’t even take five minutes) and “Avengers: Endgame” is “the superhero spectacle of the year” – and there’s nothing wrong with such sensation-driven descriptions. It’s just a shame that with such a shortening, the essentials often fall by the wayside. This applies to both the detailed strengths and any weaknesses of the film. Kornél Mundruczó’s latest directorial work “Pieces of a Woman”, available on Netflix from January 7th, could also do the same. It would not be surprising if the drama, which deals centrally with the theme of loss, should henceforth be reduced to being “the film with birth”. The very scene, which we will discuss in more detail below, is undoubtedly brilliant. But “Pieces of a Woman” is not just this scene, but so much more.
Sean (Shia LeBeouf) supports his wife Martha (Vanessa Kirby) during the birth of their daughter.
Two scenes in the script by screenwriter Kata Wéber (who also wrote the scripts for Mundruczó’s works “Jupiter’s Moon” and “Underdog”) leave a particular impression. One of them opens “Pieces of a Woman”, the second ends a certain phase that the main character Martha has gone through up to this point. The birth scene, which is guaranteed to be widely quoted in the future and was shot over two days in a total of six attempts, lasts a whopping 23 minutes from the first contraction to the tragic accident – only then does the title fade in and the actual (suffering) story begins. Nevertheless, everything that comes before is not just a prologue, a means to an end, or even both. The birth scene, filmed in a single shot (!), takes its audience on a merciless emotional ride. Now, of course, it stands to reason that all the moments within this scene have such an intense effect on the audience because they know from the basic premise what “Pieces of a Woman” is all about. You simply know that this human act will not end well and your perception is colored by it, so that you automatically perceive it more intensely. But at the same time, Kornél Mundruczó manages the formidable feat of capturing the perspective of the pregnant woman and her partner so consistently within the first half hour (and after that) that suddenly it is not the fear of what is to come that dominates, but rather the intense feeling of what Martha and she have What Sean is going through right now.
“The birth scene, which is guaranteed to be widely quoted in the future and was shot over two days in a total of six attempts, lasts a whopping 23 minutes from the first contraction to the tragic accident – only then does the title fade in and the actual (suffering) story begins .”
Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without Vanessa Kirby’s outstanding performance (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”)that of her film husband Shia LaBeouf (“The Peanut Butter Falcon”) and that of Molly Parker (“American Idyll”). The latter, as a self-sacrificing midwife who gradually becomes overwhelmed by the situation and suddenly experiences similar fears of death as the parents she looks after, sets the tone initially on a small scale and later with an increasingly present game and has a significant influence on events. As a viewer, you can literally feel their constantly rising pulse, which is gradually contaminating the scenery. While Parker’s performance is rather calm, Vanessa Kirby’s performance is best described as “tour de force”. Kirby, who has never experienced a birth herself, prepared herself by watching numerous documentaries and reports on the topic, obtaining information from various midwives and even attending a real birth. This meticulous preparation pays off: Kirby’s play with the artificial pregnancy belly becomes overwhelmingly intense and is always influenced by the birth process itself. When her whole body and face contort in pain, Martha whimpers and begs for it to finally be over, the focus is on the physical exertion. Between contractions, cameraman Benjamin Loeb succeeds (“Mandy”) but also always shots of pure happiness; For example, when husband Sean tenderly pulls his wife sitting in the bathtub towards him and the love-struck couple lie happily in each other’s arms. “Pieces of a Woman” draws all its energy from such small, overwhelming moments, which, after the tragic end of the opening scene, are not initially positive in nature. Because it’s not just the viewer who has to recover after the grueling opening – “Pieces of a Woman” is about how the mother herself processes this experience.
Martha wanders the streets alone.
The script portrays the couple, who were severely affected by the loss of their own daughter shortly after birth, as completely opposite grief workers. While Sean tries to have an open confrontation, seeks closeness to his wife and, in his desperation, threatens to fall back into old (bad) habits in order to release his emotions, Martha suffers in silence. If we see the young woman walking into an office building in an apparently normal state immediately after the film title appears, where she first folds up a young employee who is sitting at her desk, then one could even briefly come up with the idea of possibly a scene here before to see the tragic event. Martha manages to hide her emotional wounds too calmly. And again it is a tiny observation (a dropped maternity panties peeking out from under the toilet door) that provides clarity: Martha tries to escape into her old life after the loss – and in the process not only pushes against her partner, but also parts of her family in front of the head. Kornél Mundruczó usually describes the gradual breakup of marriage (statistics show that only around 50 percent of all couples stay together after such a stroke of fate) as a whirlpool of misunderstandings, mutual accusations and hopelessness. One tragic act of physical intimacy in particular illustrates the deep cracks in the bond between Martha and Sean. Another brilliant scene, of which “Pieces of a Woman” still has plenty to offer.
“The script portrays the couple, who are severely affected by the loss of their own daughter shortly after birth, as completely opposite people working on grief. While Sean tries to openly deal with the issue, seeks closeness to his wife and, in his desperation, threatens to fall back into old habits, Martha suffers in silence.
The second central position is occupied by Ellen Burstyn (“Interstellar”) as Martha’s mother on the front lines. Although the difficult relationship between her and her son-in-law takes up a little more space than necessary, her bitter appeal to her daughter not to fall apart over the situation is the second film moment that significantly shapes “Pieces of a Woman”. Burstyn pushes her daughter’s (mental) developments, but in order to do so she resorts to words that have to penetrate the recipient’s skin like needles – and the audience can only watch in disbelief. With such engaging words, the historical dimensions of Burstyn’s monologue almost fade into the background. Instead, it’s the maternal desperation that burns into your eyes as you watch. And the uncertainty as to whether their words are simply chosen carelessly or whether they are deliberately cynical. It’s a spectacular show that Burstyn puts on here; perhaps even her best since “Requiem for a Dream”.
Midwife Eva (Molly Parker) has to answer in court.
It is certainly also due to the extremely subjective narrative style that “Pieces of a Woman” does not or cannot pay equal attention to all narrative facets. The film is entirely based on Martha’s mental state and always focuses on what is important to her. It’s just a shame that a not insignificant part of the story is only dealt with in passing. The fact that the midwife has to answer in court for her alleged misdeed (the filmmakers leave it up to the audience to judge whether she is actually complicit in the incident until shortly before the end) would have enough emotional and factual traction to be a Carrying courtroom drama on our shoulders. However, in “Pieces of a Woman” this part is only a partial aspect. Anything else would probably have gone beyond the scope of the production; And with a mentality familiar from “Boyhood”, the things that are important to the protagonist play a key role in this story. It’s a bit of a shame though – the ending, which is almost too maudlin for the film as a whole, gives you the impression that “Pieces of a Woman” could actually tell you so much more. But that would probably be almost unbearable.
Conclusion: “Pieces of a Woman” is an outstanding piece of dramatic cinema, in which Vanessa Kirby plays a major role with the best performance of her career to date. Her tour-de-force performance of a woman giving birth and later a mother silently grieving is one of the best that has been seen in recent years. This also applies to large parts of the illustration of human suffering.
“Pieces of a Woman” will be available to stream on Netflix from January 7th.