A deeply traumatic beginning gives way to emotionally wrought second and third acts in Kornél Mundruczó’s drama Pieces of a Woman.
From a well-to-do family, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) is in a relationship with a rough and ready working class man, Sean (Shia LaBeouf). They both excitedly await the birth of their first child. Martha opts for a home birth, but when the big day comes their midwife is engaged in another labour. So, disappointing though it is for Martha, another midwife, Eva (Molly Parker), fills in.
Martha is in quite a deal of discomfort and pain, but everything seems to be going all right – until it isn’t. Martha gives birth to a girl and then suddenly her world collapses. The impact on her and Sean is monumental. She tries to get on with her life, but can’t. She’s in a world of hurt.
Her opinionated mother, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), who wanted Martha to have a hospital birth, implores her to sue the midwife for negligence. Sean – who Elizabeth has never thought was good enough for her daughter – is on board, but Martha is not.
A fierce screenplay by Kata Wéber and a series of searing performances characterise Pieces of a Woman. As Martha, Kirby is wound tight and gives a convincing, bravura showing as a woman in despair. LaBeouf takes the usually over-effusive Sean on a journey. Burstyn peels back a layer of Elizabeth’s traumatic past to reveal what made her as she is.
Director Mundruczó (Wéber’s husband) allows the narrative to breathe, with silences speaking volumes. The fine cinematic choices taken by Benjamin Loeb, including frequent close ups, builds the feeling of isolation and suffocation. I still feel deeply distressed by those remarkably affecting early scenes. Pieces of a Woman is a film with significant impact.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.