Pieces of a Woman

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Pieces of a Woman
dir Kornel Mundruczo
scr Kata Weber
prd Kevin Turen, Ashley Levinson, Aaron Ryder
with Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Molly Parker, Jimmie Fails, Frank Schorpion, Tyrone Benskin, Domenic Di Rosa, Steven McCarthy
release US 30.Dec.20,
UK 7.Jan.21
20/Canada Netflix 2h06

burstyn snook parker

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labeouf and kirby
There's an understated, earthy realism to this film, creating naturalistic scenes with long takes and improv-style dialog. Director Kornel Mundruczo uses silence to gives scenes time to develop, offering emotional insight that's often powerfully moving. As the story continues, the film becomes increasingly painful to watch, and the slow-burn pace and extended running time will also strain viewers. But the steely undercurrent is riveting, and it's heading somewhere important.
Boston construction worker Sean (LaBeouf) and his wife Martha (Kirby) are looking forward to becoming parents. But during their daughter's home birth, midwife Eva (Parker) faces serious complications, and the infant dies. A month later, Martha is back at work but still in the throes of grief. And Sean struggles to connect with her, even getting in touch with her mother Elizabeth (Burstyn) for advice. As they drift apart, their legal case against Eva moves forward with family lawyer Suzanne (Snook). But Martha wants no part in it, and Sean just wants to run away.
The birth sequence is a 23-minute single shot that's electrically authentic. And as the story jumps forward month-by-month, writer Weber packs scenes with beautiful details like gentle touches and quiet heartbeats. This skilfully depicts the way Martha's loss is felt throughout her whole body. Like everyone else, she grieves in her own way and struggles to convey her feeling to others. And her pain makes her hugely sympathetic. It's also wrenching to see how Sean must deal with his multi-faceted grief on his own.

Performances are vivid, mining the deeper feelings. Kirby is terrific as the stunned, resilient Martha, navigating this journey on her own. It's a contained, sometimes disturbing turn, especially when juxtaposed with LaBeouf's more heightened depiction of internalised agony. That both of them turn to others for support is unsurprising, even as it cracks their marriage. Side roles have their own textures, including the wonderful Burstyn and Snook, plus Shlesinger and Safdie as Martha's sister and brother-in-law.

The film's chapters trace the decline in relationships as each person conceals his or her heartache. Some need justice, others need to find peace with the situation. A family dinner leads into shattering accusations, emotional pleas and appalling propositions. But no one is right or wrong, even as these characters are chillingly insensitive, transferring their own ideas about grieving onto those around them. Still, it remains clear that they care about each other. And the courtroom climax brings a needed sense of hope.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.Nov.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall