Normally, Vanessa Kirby is kicking butt and taking names in the latest action/adventure blockbuster (Mission Impossible: Fallout, Fast & Furious Present: Hobbs & Shaw), but this summer she lets it all hang out literally as Martha, a young mother who begins a year-long journey of mourning that transforms relationships with her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf), her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and her midwife (Molly Parker). Having just won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, Kirby delvers a performance about as real and raw as humanly possible. Those labor scenes are intense and stressful to watch, yet comical when she ask for her Mommy. There’s a moment during the labor where Martha and Sean gaze deeply into each other’s eyes and you get this eery feeling it is the calm before the storm. This is just the first 20 minutes.
Director Kornél Mundruczó and partner/screenwriter Kata Wéber craft a deeply personal and transcendent tale. Pieces of a Woman is a powerful, raw cinematic snapshot of a home birth gone terribly awry and how the emotional aftermath wreaks havoc for months to come.
Moments like the shocked and sympathetic looks from co-workers as Martha returns to work, staring longingly at a little girl in the store only to be mortified the child is staring back because her lactating breasts are leaking through her shirt, meeting with doctor and inadvertently discussing repercussions for the mid-wife Eva (Molly Parker) who faces 5 years in prison if convicted of negligence and murder in a civil suit the couple has filed, misspelling of Baby Yvette’s name on the tombstone, the painful decision to have Yvette’s body donated for medical research, witnessing the demise of a marriage shift coupled with awkwardness of intimacy.
The rollercoaster of emotions that permeate every character is like sitting in the eye of the storm without a clue how to escape. Full of Oscar worthy nominated performances, the cast is bringing it on all cylinders. Ellen Burstyn is absolutely spectacular. The artistic sparring between her and Kirby is the stuff legends are made of. Burstyn as the meddling, manipulative mother justifying her actions under the umbrella of love for her daughter is a sight to behold. Especially, since that love and anguish are coming from a mind riddled with onset dementia and shame. Shia LaBeouf is always such a powerful presence onscreen and his performance here is one of his definitive best.
Besides Burstyn’s heartfelt monologue about the tenacity of her motherhood and knowing when to speak up and out, Martha’s speech at the mid-wife trial is everything and will leave you sucker punched within an inch of your life.
Pieces of Woman break down all the elements of a gender. Women are kind, strong, loving and through the miracle of childbirth are changed emotionally and physically forever. For better or worse, the science of having another life force growing inside of provides them with a unique empathy and perspective like no other.
Your heart will be broken, but left with a shred of hope you don’t see coming. Trust me, this is one film you don’t want to miss.