“Pieces of a Woman” is a new Netflix original film directed by Kornél Mundruczó and written by Kata Wéber. It stars Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf as a new, happy couple expecting a baby. They decide to do a home birth instead of going to a hospital, but then tragedy strikes and the baby passes away almost immediately after being born. The film then follows this couple (specifically the would-be-mother, Martha, played by Kirby) and their family, detailing what people go through after experiencing something this traumatic.
I want to mention this first: the film can be super pretentious at times. The most pretentious aspect is its title. Despite this film being called “Pieces of a Woman,” there aren’t many “pieces” of Martha that are studied. The film just focuses on how she has gotten colder from her experience. It seems to me that the filmmakers chose this title just because it would sound nice at a film festival. The film also ends so pretentiously and needlessly ambiguous that its ending just comes off as cliche. I literally rolled my eyes at it. I hate these pseudo-intellectual filmmakers — they’re not clever or artistic, they’re just arrogant.
Moving on from my pet peeve, the acting in “Pieces of a Woman” is magnificent. Vanessa Kirby gave not only her best performance, but the best performance by an actress since Lady Gaga in “A Star is Born” (yes, I thought the pop singer gave a stronger performance — sue me). She never overacted but always brought enough tension and emotion to the screen to keep her scenes interesting. Ellen Burstyn, the legendary actress from “The Exorcist” and “Requiem for a Dream,” was great as Martha’s domineering mother. Burstyn had one scene in particular which packed a real emotional punch, all due to her performance.
However, I would have to say that Shia LaBeouf, who played Sean (Martha’s partner), gave the best performance in the movie. He did the best job of showing a steady decline, and he had some moments where he would go from super calm and collected to fiery and intense. It also helps that he was given the best character to work with. He had a lot of good humor and complexity to him, while Martha (Kirby) didn’t have as much personality to her character.
I also loved Kornél Mundruczó’s direction, despite him and the writer being pretentious. He used a lot of extreme close-ups to heighten tensity, and they weren’t just zooms into one’s face. There were many close-ups of various objects and body parts, which made for some disturbing imagery that wouldn’t be disturbing in the first place if not for his direction.
That brings me to my next point: the home birth scene. Oh. My. God.
There was a straight 24 minutes of pure anxiety as the audience watches Martha struggle with the pain during childbirth. It is truly haunting but entertaining at the same time. The best part is that the entire sequence was done in ONE TAKE (meaning the camera never cuts). I’m sure it was simulated to some extent, but it’s very hard to distinguish all of the actual cuts during the sequence. Truly a MASTERCLASS in directing, acting, camera placement, timing, etc.
However, this film slows down to a high degree after the first act. The first act brought intensity, drama, and great character moments that were never reached during the second and third act. It is difficult to invest oneself in a movie that reaches its peak in the first 30-40 minutes, so the slow scenes seem slower and the fast-paced scenes feel moderately paced.
Overall, I enjoyed “Pieces of a Woman” for what the director was able to achieve and for the career-high performances. Although the film never picks up from where it left off at the beginning, it is still a compelling drama that needs to be seen, especially since January is the month when Hollywood dumps all of their garbage “movies” into the mouths of moviegoers.