Premiering at Venice Film Festival earlier this month, where Vanessa Kirby just won the award for best actress, ‘Pieces of a Woman‘ kicks off its harrowing story with an incredibly long one take opening sequence wherein Martha (Kirby) and Shawn (LaBeouf) see their planned home birth end tragically. What follows is a melodramatic postpartum period, where this couple spirals down a path of depression, dealing with loss in often destructive ways.
Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (White God) works with Kata Wéber‘s moving screenplay, focusing on the lives of a corporate woman and her construction worker husband. Polar opposites in character and background, who see their life fall apart by grief. Each one reacts in completely different ways, where Martha keeps to herself, closing herself off from her partner and family while dealing with the side-effects of having been pregnant, Shawn goes looking for someone to blame and finds solace in his old addiction habits.
Kirby, clearly coming for her very first Academy Award, gives the best performance of her career, even if it’s just for that mentally draining opening sequence, where Mundruczó pulls in close with the camera and makes you part of the entire home birth. At first exciting, the camera follows the couple and their substitute midwife (played by Molly Parker)through their apartment in the most natural way. Shia LaBeouf (‘Honey Boy‘) impressively brings his deepest emotions to the surface, while often weeping in silence. But if there’s one of the most masterful decisions of 2020, then it surely is casting Ellen Burstyn (‘Requiem for a Dream‘) in the role of Martha’s mother. At one point, during the second well-constructed long take, in which Martha and Shawn get invited to a family dinner, she delivers a monologue on her upbringing and how she feels ashamed of failing as a mother. Raw, direct and delivered exceptionally. Grab those tissues – ‘Pieces of a Woman‘ is a tough ride.
Expectations from family and friends push Martha further away from the truth, while dealing with depression she tries to find her true self again. The film takes place over the course of several months, wherein Mundruczó frames every scene in a masterful way. Sound is a very important element in ‘Pieces of a Woman‘. The camera often zooms in close, pulling focus to a heartbeat, breathing or simply a face. Howard Shore‘s score isn’t his best work, cheapening some of the scenes, pulling focus away from what goes on on screen as if they’re forcing you to feel something.
The film is at its strongest when it doesn’t try too hard. Kirby, LaBeouf, Burstyn, and even Parker are committed to their part, while Benny Safdie and Iliza Shlesinger play underdeveloped throwaway characters. Sarah Snook (‘Succession‘) works with what’s given to her, but feels miscast in the role of lawyer/niece Suzanne. Where the film starts off incredibly powerful, it didn’t have the full expected emotional impact when it comes to Martha’s development. The film ends on what seems like an afterthought, ill-fitting with the rest of the story.
A harrowing story filled with stunning scenery and camerawork. Credit to Wéber, whose naturalistic dialogue keeps the intensity alive, even if the film loses some of its magic after that unimaginably painful event. Depressing, overwhelming, soul crushing storytelling.
‘Pieces of a Woman‘ is screening at TIFF20:
– Wednesday, September 16 at 6pm (online) and 9pm @ Visa Skyline Drive-In at CityView
– Friday, September 18 at 9pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets are available HERE
TIFF20 Review – ‘Pieces Of A Woman’
Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 13, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 126 min.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, Little Lamb production. Producers: Kevin Turen, Ashley Levinson, Aaron Ryder. Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Sam Levinson, Stuart Manashil, Viktória Petrányi, Jason Cloth, Richard McConnell, Suraj Maraboyina, Aaron L. Gilbert, Steven Thibault.
CREW: Director: Kornél Mundruczó. Screenplay: Kata Wéber. Editors: Dávid Jancsó. Cinematography: Benjamin Loeb. Music: Howard Shore.
WITH: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Benny Safdie, Sarah Snook, Molly Parker, Jimmie Fails, Iliza Schlesinger.