PIECES OF A WOMAN
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kornél Mundruczós
Writer: Kata Wéber
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Ellen Burstyn, Jimmie Fails
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/26/20
Opens: December 30, 2020
Most of us who have lived at least for thirty years have known the grief that accompanies a loss. But only a woman who loses a just-born baby can attest to the emptiness she feels when she has set aside a room for the newcomer, crib and toys, goes through nine months of pregnancy and feels the baby kicking only to suffer a miscarriage when the newcomer is only minutes old. As the anguished woman who barely dreamed that such a tragedy would occur, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) fills the screen not only throughout but particularly during the initial half hour of the story when the Hungarian-born director, Kornél Mundruczós, watches her in a real-time unbroken take, one of the most wrenching minutes you’re likely to see this year.
In his first feature in English, Mundruczós is known for his “White God,” a tale of a thirteen-year-old girl out to save her dog Hagen when her father releases the animal to the streets. This time he focuses not only on the aborted birth and courtroom aftermath of a botched operation by a midwife but is throwing subtle hints of social class dynamics, including the dramatic turn by Elizabeth (Ellen Burlstyn),an upper-middle-class older woman. She attempts to undo the marriage of her daughter Martha (Vanessa Kirby) to Sean (Shia LaBeouf), a construction worker intending to have his daughter cut the ribbon and be the first to walk through a bridge he is helping to build in Boston’s Charles River. (The filming by Dávid Jancsó takes place in Canada and Norway).
With her white hair neatly glued to her head evoking her wealth, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) makes her dislike of his rough-hewn, energetic son-in-law clear from the beginning. We in the audience might hold our breath with Elizabeth’s bold, straightforward comment to Sean, “I do not like you…it’s not because you’re poor but because you are not intellectual.” More mannered than Elizabeth and Sean, Martha displays her inability to come to grips with the death of her newborn, exploding only occasionally as when she is disgusted by her mother’s insistence on burying the tiny body and declaring in a huff that she will donate the deceased to a university for research.
Determined to prosecute the case against Eva (Molly Parker), the midwife, in both criminal court and in the civil department, she engages her attorney cousin Suzanne (Sarah Snook) to move the case forward, and during the next seven months, periods designated on the screen, we watch as Sean, staying sober for months, goes back on the bottle as the family begins to disintegrate.
A long take exposes a roundabout involving Martha’s sister Anita (Iliza Shlesinger) and Anita’s car salesman husband Chris (Benny Safdie), discussing the case, during which Elizabeth bursts forth with a speech noting that she was a baby in Europe who survived the Holocaust. LaBeouf is cast as Kirby’s partner for his rage, his general physicality, his temper, still leaving Kirby as the film’s center; a woman who is not all that eager to incriminate her midwife, though she had used her as substitute for the regular person she had chosen, but is swept away by an otherwise unanimous opinion by the extended family to go to court.
If any is up for end-year awards, or for acting in films running up to the Oscar season in late April, that would be Vanessa Kirby. You can see her bottled rage, her hesitancies, her grief with every gesture, her gaze at an apple whose seeds serve as metaphor for rebirth, making “Pieces of a Woman” a must-see for an audience that values such an authentic recreation of instant post-partum depression.
126 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+