Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Pieces of a Woman is an intimate portrait of a couple who experience the greatest loss. Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Shawn (Shia LaBeouf) are passionately in love and eagerly expecting the birth of their daughter. When the night arrives, they learn their Midwife is busy with another client and a different one is sent. Unfortunately, complications arise with their home birth and the couple is sent spiralling into heart-wrenching tragedy.
Director Kornél Mundruczó shoots this outstanding Film with unflinching honesty. He is known for putting his characters under immense pressure. His use of long, continuous takes in pivotal scenes creates a real authenticity, us watching as scenes unfold in real-time and the result is both agonizing and gut-wrenching for the viewer.
The Film’s opening sequence lasts for 30 minutes. It consists of long takes following Martha, Shawn and their Midwife (Molly Parker) around their house — spanning from her first contractions to her delivery. This scene perfectly shows the love which Martha and Shawn share, and their desire to welcome their baby girl. We are immersed into the pressure cooker that becomes their house and in witnessing Martha‘s extreme difficulty, we get the unsettling sense that something isn’t right. Under Mundruczó’s masterful direction, this scene becomes a sweeping emotional journey and the sets the stage for what are some truly powerful performances.
Kirby is magnificent as a woman grappling with grief, while her body and family constantly remind her of what she lost. She commands each scene with powerful actions and controlled expressions. Most impressive, she finds that delicate balance in Martha’s newly hardened heart and her vulnerability. LaBeouf gives one of the greatest performances of his career. He is at his best drowning in Shawn’s grief and is desperate for Martha‘s love and affection again. While often we see this from a woman’s perspective, the Film gives us a genuine snapshot of what it might be like for a man.
Kirby and LaBeouf even though their characters are so different, have a palpable chemistry that makes us fall in love with them. They’re portraying a couple who are facing the biggest challenge in their relationship. Thanks to their strong chemistry we are invested in their love and are devastated when we see it crumbling. They are joined by a talented Supporting Cast. Parker is great portraying the anxiety of a Mmidwife during the home birth and expresses her unspoken guilt so well in the Third Act, within the courtroom. Ellen Burstyn is superb as Martha’s overbearing mother, always making her presence felt but especially in a confrontation between her and Kirby.
Pieces of a Woman is difficult watch, but it’s one that will change you after seeing it. Screenwriter Kata Wéber has written a beautiful, heartbreaking Script that’s about surviving after the most horrifying loss. She does this by allowing us to check-in with her characters once a month, fall to spring. This shows us the changes happening within and outside them as we watch them grow in their own ways. Time heals the pain and the Film captures this process so beautifully. And Wéber reminds us that a woman is comprised of infinite pieces which only she is able to break and rebuild again.
Pieces of a Woman screens at TIFF ’20:
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