After “White God” and “Jupiter’s Moon,” Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó and screenwriter Kata Wéber, also the real-life partner, third collaboration “Pieces of a Woman” focuses on the raw emotion of motherhood that is so devastating and radical. The film is actually based on Mundruczó and Wéber’s own experience of losing their child during Wéber’s pregnancy, digging deep into the pain, isolation, loneliness, and grief that come after the tragedy.
Awaiting the birth of their daughter in Boston (the film was in fact shot in Montreal, and the landscape doesn’t look like Boston at all), Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) purchases a new car with the financial help of Martha’s wealthy mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) – an act of emasculation, Sean noted – in the opening. Tension and social class gap have already existed between the couple, but they are just too excited about their unborn daughter.
When Martha goes into labour, their midwife is not able to attend and perform the home birth, so a replaced midwife Eve (Molly Parker) arrives. Then, “Pieces of a Woman” brings us one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of the year – a real-time, 25-minute single take that pulls off the entire labour process with unbearable intimacy and tragedy.
Follow up is a court case against Eve that charges her with negligent homicide after the death of the couple’s daughter. But the rest of the film mainly focuses on how Martha, Sean, and their family deal with the loss, and how do they grief.
While Sean is grieving with anger and noises, Martha is relatively quiet and reserved. Kirby impressively delivers her character with sharp and stiff emotion by refusing to make her feeling easily sensible. Martha, still wears medical underwear, returns to the office just a few weeks after the miscarriage and pretends to live a normal life as before. Although becoming destructive and chaotic inside, she’s a woman with minimum expression and few words, and the way she processes her trauma may seem unreadable, especially to her mother who grief and move on in an entirely different way.
“Pieces of a Woman” is definitely Kirby’s film with her Oscar-worthy performance (she already won Best Actress in last year Venice), yet it’s impossible not to think of the recent lawsuit against LaBeouf, which FKA Twigs accused the actor of sexually assaulted her and led to emotional distress, while watching the abusive behaviors in the film. In an unsettling scene, Sean tries to have sex with Martha, hoping to reconnect with her while her body language expressing the unwillingness. Finally, Sean leaves Martha and storms off the house after thing doesn’t work out as he expected.
In their two previous films, Mundruczó and Wéber show their ability to deliver the messages and emotional status through visual metaphor. In “Pieces of a Woman,” the bridge-building process from winter to spring (constructed by Sean) represents the slow process of the reconnection or even the fulfillment of motherhood. There’s also a clear analogy to explore the generational trauma that compares the idea of handling the grief of Martha and her mother. In the end, all Martha wants is to able to do something instead of feeling useless. She wants her daughter’s short life mean something bigger than simply a name mentioned in the courtroom. As a woman and a mother-to-be, she wants to feel her own vitality out of the shades of her mother, husband, and society. “Pieces of a Woman” is delicate, and I have to give Kirby the full credit of keep challenging her limit after her superb performance in “The Crown.”
- Distributor: Netflix
- Production: BRON Studios and Little Lamb
- Director: Kornél Mundruczó
- Writer: Kata Wéber
- Producer: Ashley Levinson, Aaron Ryder, and Kevin Turen
- Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Sarah Snook, and Molly Parker
- “Pieces of a Woman” premiered at Venice Film Festival 2020. Available on Netflix Jan. 7, 2021
Read the review in Chinese