Kornél Mundruczó’s newest film, Pieces of a Woman, contains the most intense opening sequence (30 minutes long) I’ve ever seen in eight years of reviewing movies mixed in with a performance from Vanessa Kirby that’s one for the ages. Kirby’s balance of aloofness and ferocity as Martha will give even the most skeptical cinephile goosebumps. What’s so appealing about Mundruczó’s latest is the authenticity of this narrative.
Unfortunately, some parents are tasked with coming to grips with the loss of a child, whether it’s a miscarriage or other dire circumstances. Too often, Hollywood tends to gloss over these moments and treat them as quickly dealt with. There’s a rawness to the film, which stems from Kirby’s powerful performance. Her character is the emotional epicenter of the film.
The film is about the birth of Martha (Kirby) and Shawn’s (Shia LaBeouf) daughter at home and the tragedy which followed. The delivery wasn’t done by their original choice for a midwife, but the back-up (Molly Parker) came in. During the delivery, her in-action was at first the agreed-upon reason for why their child passed away on that night.
Kata Wéber’s script centers around a set of predetermined dates, which we quickly find out are after their daughter had passed. Pieces Of A Woman is about piecing your life together after this unspeakable trauma and how one navigates the aftermath. Shawn and her mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, don’t understand her attitude towards death. Shawn sees her actions dismissive when, in reality, this is how Martha can function with the cloud of the tragedy still hanging over everything.
The film states that societal norms shouldn’t dictate how each of us grieves or even when it’s permissible to move on because, in reality, we never do. It just gets a little easier each day to manage the pain. Kirby’s approach to her role is what stood out most to me.
Her character, from the first moment, someone attempts to ease her suffering in the supermarket, became a simmering cauldron of rage. With each dismissive comment, the intensity grows until she reaches a breaking point during the third-act. The pain and blinding rage begin to seep out of her, and Kirby owns that moment.
There’s a reason why Netflix went all in on this title – the subject matter and Kirby’s career-defining performance. Everyone will soon get a chance to bask in the film’s light and soak in its message. We can never escape grief, but we can learn to deal with its arrival.