Taut. Poignant. Brutal… Pieces Of A Woman tells a tale of bereavement, grief, revenge and ire. However, the pulsating narrative by which it’s told, holds its nitty grip till the very edge. It starts with Bostonians, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), all excited about having their first child. Flowy banners at the baby shower of ‘It’s a Girl’ are seen fluttering across the rooms. The young couple is over the moon and the happiness about expecting their first child permeates amazingly well in the first few scenes.
As per the Bostonian practice, the couple plans to have their baby at home… It’s just a routine home birth and everything has been meticulous planned and organised. Indeed, nothing can dim Martha and Sean’s happiness, not even Martha’s dominating mother Elizbeth (Ellen Burstyn), who insist on having the last word especially with Sean. Perhaps this is where the director takes the liberty of presenting a happy set-up rather sluggishly, however, the pace picks up at the time of child birth.
When Martha goes into labour, the mid-wife she trusted cannot make it because she is busy tending to another woman. The replacement (Molly Parker) walks in and takes charge, and that is when the narrative freezes to a brutal 24-minute childbirth scene. Martha screams, howls, swears, buckles… taking the intense power of this scene to another level until it ends with a freeze on Martha’s limp arm draped over the bathtub denoting an empty end. The silence, especially after the tragedy, speaks volumes about the raw pain and agony the characters go through.
Martha has lost her baby and perhaps this is when the intensity of the film maximises as the raw grief overwhelms and threatens to engulf this beautiful family into an empty bitter shell, hell-bent on retribution. Martha is so numb with grief that she isolates herself from Sean and her mother. The rawness of her pain is tangible, and she becomes a listless, emotionless character, a far cry from the earlier Martha she was. Unable to cope with the grief and being unmoored from his wife, Sean takes refuge in cocaine, cigarettes and alcohol. While her mother Elizabeth stonily eggs the couple to channelise their grief into revenge and prosecute the supposedly blameless mid-wife.
Pieces Of A Woman has a compelling narrative though it does stumble in parts especially the courtroom scenes. The childbirth scene too kindles a dark distress that is sometimes difficult to watch. Vanessa Kirby’s performance is nuanced and balanced. Her agonised emotions evoke empathy, and her pain stir up a torment that touches a chord. Especially in the sex scene after the tragedy, Kirby nails it with her portrayal of an empty Martha trying her best to match up to her husband’s aggressiveness, but failing miserably.
Shia LaBeouf’s pain of losing his child and then figuratively losing his wife reflects in his eyes and body language as he helplessly struggles to cope with these momentous woes and fails. The rest of the cast, especially Ellen Burstyn and Molly Park, are impactful. With this bruising dark film, Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo makes his debut in the English film genre. Though it is an ideal platform for his actors to perform to their very best, the film by itself is a tad disturbing and dark.
Film: Pieces Of A Woman
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker
Director: Kornel Mundruczo