Plot: A woman grapples with losing her child shortly after birth.
A successful character study and an immersive drama that’s not without its flaws, Kornél Mundruczó’s PIECES OF A WOMAN is an engrossing story and a fresh examination of how a bruised woman deals with grief much differently than what’s expected of her by family, friends and society at large.
Matha (Vanessa Kirby) is married to Sean (Shia LaBeouf). The couple are expecting a baby and have mutually decided to enlist the services of a midwife. When Martha suffers longer contractions than usual, an alternative midwife is called over to help deliver the baby. But things take an unexpected turn when the baby passes away just moments after birth, opening doors for months-long agony, guilt and grief.
What makes PIECES OF A WOMAN interesting, despite the film overstaying its welcome at times and suffering from slight pacing issues and perhaps a bit of an overdose of melodrama, is its fresh and unique approach to its central character. As Martha, Kirby is superb in portraying a character that is not allowed the opportunity to grieve in her own way, and finds herself rather constrained by how social and familial norms define and deal with grief. As she tries to distance herself from an undeniably painful experience, those around her attempt to pull her back into the very same traumatic ordeal. When Sean and Martha’s controlling mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) try to force Martha into pursuing a lawsuit against the midwife, it is clear that Martha’s suffering is far from over, as he has to relive her trauma once again.
The film rests on Kirby’s shoulders as she delivers the best performance of her career so far and is completely believable as a woman who is striving to set herself free and coming to terms with her unimaginable loss in hopes of mustering the strength to move on. Excellent performances from LaBeouf as a grieving husband unable to regain his relationship with Martha before the incident and Burstyn as a controlling mother whose views often collide with those of her daughter’s help elevate the film despite uneven pacing and stretched portions that risk reducing the narrative’s overall impact. Howard Shore’s score also helps ground the film, giving it just the right tone.
Verdict: Three years after his Cannes misfire JUPITER’S MOON, it is refreshing to see Kornél Mundruczó recover with a much stronger film which boasts a carefully calibrated screenplay and memorable performances across the board. A welcome return to form, PIECES OF A WOMAN is engrossing with themes that will resonate with wider audiences.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival. Pieces of a Woman has been picked up by Netflix for an upcoming but unknown release date.