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Content Warning: Miscarriage
Pieces of a Woman tells the story of a mother who, along with her husband, is deals with the grief brought upon her after their newborn child dies during childbirth. As much a tale of grief and loss, as one of parenthood, Pieces of a Woman is an honest, nuanced look at a heartbreaking event not often explored in such depth.
The film is headlined by Vanessa Kirby as the grieving mother Martha in an understated yet powerful performance. She masterfully displays total commitment and authenticity in the first act’s continuous, uncut depiction of the tragic birth. For that scene alone, Ms Kirby deserves the utmost respect as a fantastic performer, and a particularly dynamic and adaptable one at that. Her subdued portrayal of Martha’s grief and loss is equally commendable, displaying both her range and aforementioned authenticity. Joining her are Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s husband and mother respectively, both providing fantastic performances (LaBeouf’s problematic personal issues notwithstanding). As the grieving father, LaBeouf channels the intensity and rawness of his performance in Honey Boy combined with the softness of his character in The Peanut Butter Falcon, while Ellen Burstyn serves as a moral counter to Martha that leads to powerful exchanges between the two. The disagreements that arise between the characters are all understandable – some more immediately than others – with the film’s central conflicts arising due to clashing views and approaches to deal with the tragic situation. The drama is never manufactured and is always investing.
Kornel Mundruczo directs the film with a personal honesty, allowing for shots to linger on characters at their most emotionally vulnerable. Thanks to his use of subdued imagery, intimate and genuine locations, and the technical marvel that is the opening childbirth scene, the film and its characters feel that much more genuine. However, the childbirth sequence – as pivotal and impressive as it is – represents somewhat of a peak in terms of intensity in terms of the film’s pacing. While the events dealing with the ramifications of that birth are certainly riveting, some might find it difficult to remain emotionally invested or totally interested in the film afterwards.
The film is visually striking, with its muted color palette further contributing to the emotional resonance of the film, without feeling overly dreary. There’s a certain elegance and grace to the film’s visual presentation which is never tasteless. The film also depicts passage of time in a creative, unique, and heartbreaking way. Some of the other visual metaphors feel somewhat contrived at times, however, betraying the immersion and nuance of the presentation. The film is at its strongest when it is subtle with its portrayal of grief and emotional turmoil, trusting the audience to infer certain character details.
At its core, Pieces of a Woman is a heartbreaking and genuine tale of loss, grief, and their effects on our lives. Filled with fantastic performances, its rarely seen depiction of the cost that sometimes comes with parenthood is one I’ll be thinking of for years to come.
Image: Wolfgang Moroder via Wikimedia Commons