Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn in Kornél Mundruczó’s ‘Pieces of a Woman’
BRON Studios

“We need —we need some justice here!”

“No, you need. That is what you want. That is what you need. That is your way!”

It’s incredibly hard when someone loses a loved one. But anytime a mother loses her baby, it hits even harder. Pieces of a Woman, tells the tale of a young couple, struggling to cope with the loss of their daughter.

Pieces of a Woman centers on Martha (Vanessa Kirby), a young woman on the cusp of giving birth to her first baby. Her partner, Sean (Shia LaBeouf), is a rough guy working in construction as he builds bridges in the city. Though they seem complete opposites, they have fun with each other, especially in the lead up to the birth of their daughter. But on the night of Martha’s at-home labor, the midwife (Molly Parker) fails to do what’s needed, resulting in the baby’s death. With Martha’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) looming in the background, inserting her own heavy handed opinions, Martha must try to get through the consuming grief that surrounds her.

Vanessa Kirby’s characters range from Princess Margaret, the rebellious spare in The Crown, to kicking ass next to Tom Cruise, The Rock, or Jason Statham. But even in her illustrious, young, career, we’ve never seen her like this. Her unbelievably raw performance as Martha in Pieces of a Woman, will leave you in shock by the tragedy that surrounds her. You feel everything that Martha is going through — no emotion left off limits. Kirby’s performance could have easily gone into the realm of overacting, breaking down in communication to the audience, but her performance is brutal as her pain is your pain. Kirby is the glue that holds this film together, not only because she’s the main character, but because her stunning acting will leave you with your jaw on the floor. As for Shia LaBeouf, who plays Martha’s partner, he never fully gets off the ground with his performance as Sean. There’s something missing that doesn’t fully convey what he’s going through. At certain moments, Sean sits and cries, not being able to understand what’s going on. But compared to Kirby, LaBeouf is just a mere sideline player. Ellen Burstyn who plays Martha’s mother is, to put it simply, fantastic. Next to Kirby, the two of them explode on screen. Burstyn’s presence throughout the film is short and sporadic, but it’s surely amazing enough to think she may earn an Oscar nomination. The scene between Martha and her mother is one of the best scenes of dialogue I’ve seen this year. It’s unbelievable, the heartache that these two are feeling as they try to cope with loss in what they believe is the best way to handle it.

Executive producer Martin Scorsese once said “the most personal is the most creative.” There’s nothing better to describe Pieces of a Woman’s narrative. The film is based on director, Kornél Mundruczó, and screenwriter, Kata Wéber’s, own personal experience with losing a baby. Their story, although influencing the film, never overshadows Kirby’s own version of Martha’s story. Pieces of a Woman may center on the death of a child, but it’s so much more than that. It examines the grief we feel and how we are all different in coping with tragedy. Some of us crumble in on ourselves. Some of us rebel to feel some control in our lives, and some of us put on a brave face, so to get through our lives. The truth behind Pieces of a Woman lies within what’s not being told from the characters mouths. As Martha takes long walks, or simply shops for a book, there’s something about the demeanor, paired with the bitter cold atmosphere of the northern United States, that amplifies the grief that these characters are facing.

Many films this past year have dealt with the crushing feeling of grief and/or depression. A subject like that could not have come at a better, or worse, time — depending on how you look at. Pieces of a Woman is a tough film to sit and watch, not because it’s boring or dull, but because you have to be in the right mindset to watch an astounding, and deeply personal, film like this.

Pieces of a Woman

Written by: Kata Wéber

Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó

Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Snook, Molly Parker, Benny Safdie, Iliza Shlesinger, and Ellen Burstyn


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