A long, winding shot, presumably, taken in one go. In it, we see Vanessa Kirby’s character Martha go through the motions of giving birth. It is an awkward, uncomfortable experience as a viewer, and I mean that in the best sense possible. Thanks to Kirby’s strong skill sets, despite not feeling her physical pain, I could feel the character’s discomfort. Her long groans, confusion and cussing added to the scene that was already believable at the word go thanks to the actor’s body language. It is this sense of believability, this feeling of something gnawing at your insides that Kirby moves forward with in the Kornél Mundruczó directorial Pieces of a Woman.
Also starring Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn in significant parts, Pieces of a Woman is an intricate, poignant picture of grief that is brought alive by Vanessa Kirby’s powerful performance. What also greatly helps her is the fact that Pieces of a Woman is a character-oriented movie, and not a plot-driven film. The narrative is simple and predictable to the T. What elevates it is the well-fleshed, painfully drawn sketch of Martha Weiss. A strong, independent woman who picks up her pieces after suffering an irrevocable loss.
After learning of her child’s death, Martha bears her pain like a stoic. She appears stone-faced, cool and calm at all times. She doesn’t want a burial. She does not want to be reminded of the pain. She becomes her pain. Numb and hurting silently like a warrior. Sometimes like a cruel warrior who cannot be bothered to listen to her loved ones. Every thing, every one is a blur. Now these are tough moments for an actor. Wailing, letting the feelings out might seem the obvious thing to do, and even perhaps the more easier and ‘natural’ course of action. But because Martha is like a wall, Kirby has to become one too. She has to express without expressing. A challenging task for an artiste, and one which Vanessa Kirby aces. This feat becomes more incredible once you get to know that Kirby herself has never given birth nor has experienced motherhood. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor revealed that she was able to watch a woman give birth and that is how she was able to do what she did in the opening minutes of the film. “It was the most amazing generous act and I knew I never could have begun to act it without really witnessing what it’s actually like,” Kirby said.
Pieces of a Woman is a silent film for the most part. There are only a few dramatic exchanges. Silence, symbols and Martha are the three main ingredients of the movie. Martha’s silence after the loss, the symbolism of Martha preserving apples’ seeds, the drying plants, the unwashed, stacked plates in her house, her unkempt hair and her quiet but taunting laughter — these are the constituents of the Kornél Mundruczó film. If you can sit through silence and watch for signals of a woman’s unravelling, Pieces of a Woman is the film for you.
Also starring Iliza Shlesinger and Molly Parker, Pieces of a Woman is streaming on Netflix.