Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó
Premise: A woman (Vanessa Kirby) loses her baby in childbirth. She and the baby’s father (Shia LaBeouf) bring a lawsuit against the midwife (Molly Parker) and struggle to move on with their lives.
What Works: Pieces of a Woman is a wrenching examination of grief and loss. The film centers upon a couple anticipating the birth of their first child. Most of the first thirty minutes of Pieces of a Woman dramatizes the labor which ends in tragedy. It is an extraordinary opening. The labor sequence is executed in a single continuous shot and the dramatic buildup and the blocking of the action are done perfectly. Of course it’s all carefully choreographed but everything in this sequence plays so naturalistically that it never feels artificial. The remainder of Pieces of a Woman follows the couple as they cope with the loss of their baby. The narrative is broken into sections, occasionally leaping forward on the timeline, as the couple work their way through the stages of grief. Pieces of a Woman possesses a vivid atmosphere of misery and the movie is sometimes difficult to watch because the anguish of the characters is so visceral. But the filmmakers do more than just dangle unhappiness in front of us. Encouraged by their family, the couple brings their midwife to trial in an attempt to blame her for the death of their baby. In this respect, Pieces of a Woman examines the way in which people cope with tragedy, and especially the way they try to rationalize an irrational event. That gives the suffering of this film substance; even if a happy ending is impossible we can come away from the film with the sense that it has shown us something more. That’s partly accomplished through the writing and directing but also the performances which are stellar across the board. Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf play the grieving parents and they are convincing as a couple, gauging their performances carefully as the relationship cracks up. Also impressive is Ellen Burstyn as the mother of Kirby’s character. The mother suffers oncoming dementia and Burstyn alternates between lucidity and confusion.
What Doesn’t: Pieces of a Woman slows down in its second half. The film gets looser in its focus. This helps the picture insofar as it allows the filmmakers and the actors the space to explore their characters. But Pieces of a Woman is a little too languidly paced in its final stretch and it goes on a bit longer than it ought to. There are a few scenes, especially the final coda sequence, that protract the movie without contributing enough to justify the additional length.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Pieces of a Woman is an exceptional drama. The characters are vivid and the film’s portrait of grief is intelligent and nuanced. The pacing may sag in the second half but the film offers such depth and substance that it never outstays its welcome.
Episode: #838 (February 7, 2020)