January 7, 2021

SCREEN | Vanessa Kirby Breaks Apart – 'Pieces of a Woman'

"She got it gray like her soul. That's her spirit colour."
Vanessa Kirby Kornél Mundruczó | Pieces of a Woman | Netflix
Little Lamb / Bron Studios
British actress Vanessa Kirby gives a career-best performance as an expectant mother turned grieving one in Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó's messy tragedy piece, Pieces of a Woman. Despite the tour-de-force acting and high sense of tense melodrama, the intimate film folds parental suffering into a basic melange of circumstantial grief and dramatized trauma.

Beginning with a harrowing thirty-minute unbroken home birth scene with a very gruff Shia LaBeouf as Kirby's husband and Molly Parker as an indecisive midwife, the film never quite recovers from the intense trauma and intimacy of its signature sequence. What follows is a more staggering work of mourning and blame focused on Kirby's Martha who gives a complex performance without much in the way of further motivation outside of losing a child.

After the birth, Pieces struggles to rebuild momentum from such high tension and becomes much more of an art film following moments in the year after with LaBeouf's husband character albeit fading despite a superfluous subplot with Martha's lawyer cousin (Sarah Snook) who prosecutes the midwife. Meanwhile, comedian Iliza Shlesinger, indie director Benny Safdie, and the incomparable Ellen Burstyn as her sister, brother-in-law, and domineering mother move in to support and bounce of her grief. It's an idiosyncratic mix of actors and acting styles that make the tense family dynamic feel more lived-in without the need for flash.

Screenwriter Kata Wéber, who shares the pre-title "a film by" credit with partner Mundruczó, crafts an insular script where Martha's internal struggle and grief manifests the actions and stories of the people surrounding her in ways to reverberate the tragedy she experiences. It's a staggering portrait of grief, but Pieces of a Woman falls apart after the intimate first act (somewhat purposely) yet how Mundruczó frames the couple's drama through a punishing Boston winter makes the film particularly emotional.

Pieces of a Woman is available to stream on Netflix.

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