Pieces Of A Woman


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Pieces Of A Woman
"Part of the problem is that the characters are either opaque or unpleasant – and all lack rounded definition." | Photo: Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

The phrase “hard labour” may not have been created to describe the opening 30 minutes of Pieces Of A Woman – but it could have been, not only for actress Vanessa Kirby, whose character Martha spends the time giving birth in real time, Martha’s husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and midwife Eva (Molly Parker), but for anyone sitting on the other side of the screen watching it.

The grimness of what happens sets the tone for what is to come and, at some point around the 40-minute mark, my mind began idly drifting to the question of who, while scrolling through Netflix after another day in lockdown, is going to not only start, but stick with this slog of a film, despite Kirby’s incredible investment in her character. The film marks the first in English for Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber – who, interviews indicate, drew on their own experience of miscarriage for it – and while there’s no denying the raw intensity of watching a tragedy unfold the film struggles to find rhythm and momentum beyond it.

Part of the problem is that the characters are either opaque or unpleasant – and all lack rounded definition. Kirby’s executive gets the best of it, and is worthy of her nominations, but her character is buttoned up, almost from beginning to end, always one hand’s remove from the rest of us. LaBeouf’s blue collar Sean is almost entirely defined by his appetites – drinking, wanting to have sex, his one character trait seemingly impetuousness. Somehow Ellen Burstyn, at Martha’s mother (the actress, at 88 would have had to have given birth to Martha at the age of 56), manages to overcome both the age incredulity and her character’s single-note snobbery to show a vulnerability that the script barely permits but her character also feels as though it comes in pieces that don’t quite fit together.

The good performances can’t overcome the fragmented structure of the film in general – a vestige, presumably, of the stage play it once was, which jumps forwards in time in leaps that also get in the way of character connection. Worse still, having leaned into the grim cliches of eastern European filmmaking and melodrama for its first half – and in fairness to Mundruczó, you can’t fault his filmmaking skill in that opening single take – Wéber’s script then takes a turn into American Hallmark territory, complete with a final grating of cheese.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2021
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Pieces Of A Woman packshot
Martha and Sean Carson are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably during a home birth at the hands of a flustered midwife.


Venice 2020

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