Pieces of a Woman
Early morning on Mother’s Day I was greeted by my two lovely daughters and my husband. Since we slept over at my parent’s house, warm greetings from my brother, sisters and their kids filled the house. My social media accounts flooded with heartwarming messages from friends, colleagues, and students. This day is indeed special for every mother in world. Just like regular weekends I watch a movie during siesta, today I decided to watch a Netflix release Pieces of a Woman. Pieces of a Woman is a 2020 Canadian-American drama directed by Kornél Mundruczó and written by Kata Wéber. This is the film adaptation of the stage play of the same name by Mundruczó and Wéber (2018). It had its world premiere on September 4, 2020, at the 77th Venice International Film Festival where Kerby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. Kerby was also nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA Award, Critic’s Choice Award, and Screen Actors Guild for her phenomenal performance in the film.
Frame, Score & Setting
The story revolves around a young couple Martha and Sean, who are expecting their first child. The film started with Sean on the frame on his day at the bridge construction site on September 17th. He left early and went straight to his wife’s office. Martha, seen slicing the cake and smiling timidly during the baby shower party thrown by her office mates. Then, the couple headed to a car dealer (Chris) who happened to be the husband of Martha’s sister (Anita). There they met Martha’s mom (Elizabeth) who bought the couple a mini-van. That scene when the whole family members were present signaled a peculiar family relationship. Elizabeth belittling Sean while a cold wall between Martha and her sister (Anita) could not be shrugged off. At home, the couple talks casually until Martha started to feel the contraction. Following next is the 23-minute single shot home-birth scene that I should say the most intense, nerve-wracking, devastating, and too painful almost unwatchable opening scene I have seen in recent years.
The camera work is flawless especially the tight shot during the birthing scene. The cinematography from the beautiful imagery of seeing the child for the first time to the crushing loss was perfectly framed. I noticed Benjamin Loeb shot Sean’s back instead of his face during every heart-rending scene while frequently capturing Martha’s emotion through close-range shots. While most films with intense drama have an equally intense score, Howard Shore stirs the audiences’ emotions through the pianissimo score. It is almost inaudible at some times so it is advisable to wear a headset if you are particularly paying attention to this aspect. The soft piano solo was melancholic making the emotional scene even more agonizing. A distinct style in the dynamics of the score could be noticed every time Martha is walking or visiting places because BGM was played louder at those times.
Characters and Acting Performances
Shia LaBeouf playing Sean is earning through a blue-collar job on a bridge construction company. He has a jarred personality, a dark past, and had been sober for more than 6 years. LaBeouf had shown spot-on performance in portraying his character and handling its dynamics. The speechless blissfulness upon laying his eyes on Yvette (baby) for the first time, agony for not knowing the cause of their baby’s death, burning desire to feel Martha’s affection again, tormenting wailing at the bridge, and self-disgust during Elizabeth’s final deal were beyond perfection. During his darkest hours, the frame showed his back instead of his face not because LaBeouf could not do such very emotional scene but it is the way of differentiating man and woman’s way of handling despair. As man usually would conceal his tears and so is Sean’s face hidden to the audience.
Martha (Vanessa Kirby), is a career woman who came from a middle-class family. She is carefree and strong but had developed remorse against her mother and sister. Kirby’s performance was nothing short of breathtaking. On that single shot how she moaned, cried, cursed, shouted, and showed confusion were done brutally raw. She essayed Martha’s persona as devastated but resilient, angry but emphatic, strong but broken. She exemplified a woman suffering from postpartum trauma with utmost honesty.
Elizabeth Weiss (Ellen Burstyn), a well-off old lady in her early stage of dementia blatantly showed her dislike for her son-in-law. Being a veteran actress, Burstyn showed the superior internalization of her character. I have to commend on that astounding monologue as she painfully narrated her past while desperately persuading Martha to stand for herself and give justice to the baby’s death. The rest of the cast though had minimal roles but were able to deliver the performances required of them.
Another exceptional performance of the couple happened on the 13th of January. When the couple is on the brink of their relationship, Sean tried to have an intimate moment with Martha. Though Martha did not explicitly refuse, her actions speak otherwise. Thus, manifested sexual assault that had lead to physical abuse. That scene was seamlessly framed and precisely acted.
Screenplay, Dialogue and Direction
The narrative was presented through 8 significant dates each opened with the bridge Sean is building. The opening scene was presented with astonishing visual storytelling. It was impeccably done that the audience felt the unbearable pain of Martha during contraction, cried for joy upon seeing the baby, and turned frantic as the baby turned blue. However, the opening scene was so outstanding that the rest of the film seemed downhill. Just like how it was divided into different dates, the storyline seemed fractured and the plot was inconsistent. At some points, the audience would ask questions on how and why things happened (like how Suzzane and Sean ended up with extramarital affairs). The screenplay was so invested in Martha’s characterization that some of the details were neglected. The climax was a bit rushed and the transition of events was rough and incoherent. The dialogues are well-penned and brilliantly executed however, because of some lacking details it turned out to be superficial.
I understand that the director and the writer had a similar story in the past but I think the plot was a bit ambitious. It tried to tackle postpartum syndrome, despair of losing a child, domestic violence, extra-marital relationship, and coping with the lawsuit but the last theme was not handled properly in the film. I also find some scenes extremely slow and long (like taking and rearing the apple seeds). It could have been better if Weber invested in other much-needed details like focusing on the precedent of the courtroom drama. If ever Mundruczó planned on using the apple for symbolism, I have to say it didn’t pull off. The bridge as an analogy of the couple’s relationship was clever. Despite its shortcoming on the plot, Mundruczó still was able to produce an honest depiction of a family battling for anguish, anger, and grief towards letting go and moving on.
This movie makes you see and feel the excruciating pain of losing a child through convincing performances, realistic frames, poignant score, hard-hitting dialogues, solid characterization, and clever direction. I opted for home-birth for my firstborn and upon watching this, the pain I experienced that day vividly flashed back on my mind. As Sushmita Sen (Miss Universe 1994) said that being a mother is the essence of being a woman, I can’t imagine the pain of having that feeling for just a second and losing it seconds after. I then realized that this day could be blissful to a fortunate woman like me but could be distressing to a woman who almost becomes a mom or those who could never become a mom. Pieces of a Woman could be a lucid depiction of a shattered woman and her quest for becoming whole again.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.