Everybody thinks that there are rules; that is until you see it first hand…
Pieces of a Woman is a bold, emotionally stark and wholly accurate look at the experience of grief that reminds us how no one can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, no matter how well meaning they are and how societal pressures on how you’re “supposed” to be feeling can actually tear people apart.
Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably when a home birth ends in unimaginable tragedy. Thus begins a yearlong odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with her husband and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn), along with the publicly vilified midwife (Molly Parker), whom she must face in court.
As it holds on long shots and crafts an atmosphere akin to the works of Ingmar Bergman; Pieces of a Woman anchors itself in grief and the frustration with the fact that no matter how well you prepare for it, it’s just a beast to deal with.
Director Kornél Mundruczó and his writing partner Kata Wéber (along with some probable guidance from executive producer Martin Scorsese) that plays in the long drawn out moments that makes you want to feel the gravity of the moment that these characters are feeling. It doesn’t lean on monologues or plot points, but rather it thrives on the long gazes out of a window with a character or the palpable frustration with the world that is attacking people at every frame in this gorgeous film.
With cinematographer Benjamin Loeb who is racking up some exceptional work we get washed up into the shine of upper middle class life only to bring us tumbling down as he hangs in these immaculately framed moments of emotion and allows us to have them sink into our very core. The cinema has never been this sad since Bergman and it’s an amazing thing to behold as we deal with issues of grief and the nonsense of social convention that people feel compelled to follow even when they really don’t have to.
Mundruczó doesn’t fall into any obvious traps of trying to over direct his actors and allows them all too really get into the core of the material which makes the individual performances throughout this film to simply come alive. Much like Mundruczó’s film White God, this is a film that truly marries the character work with the images that we see on the screen.
Book it now for your all of your Oscar/Golden Globe and awards season pools; Vanessa Kirby is taking home some gold.
As Martha we a glimpse into some unabashed emotion, pain and confusion that she allows this character to portray, it’s not a clean performance but it’s such an engaging one as you can tell that she’s throwing herself into every frame of the material here. It’s simply a marvel to watch as she truly gives a performance that is announcing she’s now at the next level and the sky is the limit for this actor going forward.
The enigmatic Shia LaBoeuf is fantastic opposite her as her fragile partner Sean who is struggling with the grief in his own ways and is unable to share it with the woman he is committed to spending the rest of his life with. They are two characters on the same journey that is incompatible for them to take together. Ellen Burstyn is fantastic and the domineering mother intent on making this all about her own inequities while the likes of Ilza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, the criminally underrated Sarah Snook and Molly Parker round out this fantastic ensemble.
Pieces of a Woman reminds us that there are something’s in life where you can’t measure the response you’re going to have to something, until you’re living in the middle of it because at the end of the day anyone else’s judgements on what is going on in your life just doesn’t mean a goddamn thing.
It’s weird calling this ‘cinema’ since it debuted on Netflix while we’re all home right now, but it’ll have to do as it is one of the more emotionally vibrant and necessary pieces of cinema we’ve had in quite some time.