Pieces of a Woman Review: A devastating look into sudden tragedy headlined by an award-worthy performance from Vanessa Kirby
The newest film from director Kornel Mundruczo, Pieces of a Woman, brings viewers on an emotional journey through grief and heartache that’s elevated through a powerful central performance from Vanessa Kirby.
Honestly, after watching the movie, which is directly related to a 2018 stageplay of the same name by Mundruczo and the film’s writer Kata Weber, it’s crazy how all of the emotions and feelings before the title flashes across the screen radically change. There’re these feelings of real love that can be felt when we initially meet Boston couple Martha (Kirby), a high-powered businesswoman, and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), a construction worker, as they near the birth of their soon to be daughter. From the way that Sean is very attentive for Martha as her contractions become more painful and she starts to become nauseous and to how Marta still loves Sean even though her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) despises him because of his social status, there’s a real, genuine connection these two have that adds to the realism of the film. Even the way that Mundruczo captures pregnancy and the birthing process feels real and doesn’t try to glamorize it. There’s still certainly a beauty and amazement about it, but it also creates some anxiety around the situation with its pace and touches on an unexpected tragedy that everyone fears.
While things start on a much more wholesome and heartwarming note, the film’s more traumatic themes about grief and depression quickly latch onto your heart with it becoming a devastating look at the fallout of SIDs – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. With there still being no known cause of SIDs, it’s a tragedy that offers no real answers or concrete understanding. One second your baby can seem normal and the next they’re gone. I think it’s the legitimate equivalent to having your heart be viciously ripped out and the film does an excellent job portraying the hurt and destruction that Martha, Sean, and Martha’s family goes through in learning that they’re baby dies minutes after being born.
One of the major strengths Pieces of a Woman has in displaying different forms of and showcasing how grief can tear relationships apart and cause collateral damage. While Martha is pretty determined to donate her baby’s body to science so that there can be a clearer understanding of what happened and sort of stone-faced about the whole thing, Elizabeth and Sean are in a much different mindset. Looking to try and convict the midwife for possibly making errors that caused the baby to die and frustrated with how Martha is reacting, or lack thereof. It’s a devastating showcase of how grief and tragedy can ruin family ties and bring out an ugliness in people that can cause more damage to be done.
The way that blame is pointed around, even at Martha by Elizabeth, is legitimately soul-crushing and creates this stir of anger, frustration, and depression that genuinely stings with the damage that it causes. Sean not only reverts back to his drug use but showcases a disgustingly selfish side to himself with how he treats Martha and their relationship going forward. Although it’s a side of LaBeouf’s performing that we’ve seen before, sadly even in the real world, he does a great job both showing the more human side to Sean’s and the more depraved side of his depression that causes things to fall apart. Elizabeth is even more opportunistic with how she helps turn Martha and Sean against one another and turns Martha to testify against the midwife. Burstyn delivers an incredibly strong performance full of conviction and delivers a heart wrenching monologue that makes Elizabeth’s determination a little clearer.
Pieces of a Woman is truly a showcasing of Kirby’s incredible ability as she excellently shows how Martha is wrapped with guilt and silently searches for her own understanding. Every look has this silent pain behind it that can be felt and this slow-building tension and frustration just waiting to boil over. With there being no real answer and a lack of support for her own views, Martha is left to pick up the pieces herself and it all builds to an emotional realization that’ll certainly get the tears flowing. Her delivery of the Martha’s understanding of what happened and what she’s lost during the midwife’s trial is truly unforgettable and an intriguing understanding of sudden tragedy. It’s a moment that really makes you connect with her on an incredibly deep level and genuinely touches your heart. It’s an ending that feels genuinely human and doesn’t try to create an answer for something that doesn’t have one but allows for the grieving process to have an ending through understanding.
Pieces of a Woman is the pure embodiment of the grieving process through its depiction of SIDs destroying lives and sudden tragedy creating devastating ripples that tear people apart. All of this headlined by an award-worthy performance from Kirby that’s easily one of the strongest of this current awards season. It’s a film that hurts and heals the soul and offers open thought for how to deal with grief.