This emotional drama about childbirth has brief moments of brilliance that are sadly let down by an otherwise mediocre film.
Pieces of a Woman, directed by Kornél Mundruczó, is a difficult film to write about it as many parts of it are brilliant and many parts squander that brilliance. It’s always a shame to see when there are some utterly fantastic elements in what is otherwise a rather mediocre film, and Pieces of a Woman epitomises this. Despite intense and strong performances from both Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf, especially during the film’s first half, it is not enough to save this promising drama from falling into mediocrity by the end. The plot centres around Martha (Kirby), whom is grieving after a home birth gone horribly wrong and desperately attempting to move on in life whilst simultaneously navigating the difficult relationships around her.
Pieces of a Woman is Mundruczó’s first English language film, and to have made the transition from indie Hungarian cinema to an American awards season drama produced by Martin Scorsese and Sam Levinson is insanely impressive. Unfortunately a few choices made here sink the great ones. Firstly, Kirby gives a brilliant performance for the majority of the film, specifically in the opening 30 minutes when we witness the home birth in the style of one take. This sequence is genuinely astounding thanks to the trio of performances including LaBeouf as Martha’s husband Sean, and midwife Molly Parker that perfectly enact the emotional complexity of the situation. The cinematography by Benjamin Loeb (also responsible for the cinematography of Mandy) is also effective as it glides around the house and feels like its own character due to its claustrophobic intimacy. Almost all of the performances across the board are convincing, aside from Benny Safdie who feels terribly miscast and awkward, and Ellen Burstyn who has some good moments as Martha’s mother Elizabeth but is both underused and over-dramatic.
Speaking of over-dramatic, time to move on to Howard Shore’s score. Keeping in mind that Shore has composed for many of America’s well regarded directors (David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, David Cronenberg etc), his score here feels so misguided and overbearing. It forces emotion where there’s barely any present which overburdens the performances that already have it covered. In addition, it’s evident from the opening shot that Mundruczó is channelling the work of John Cassavetes, with his focus on a mentally vulnerable female lead and Sean (Labeouf) working in construction screaming out the influence of A Woman Under The Influence, despite staying far from living up to Cassavetes’ mastepiece.
It’s a shame that a film with as much potential as Pieces of a Woman stumbles as it does, but it is worth viewing for those interested in performances. It’s very much an awards season film, one trying hard to prove itself as mature and eager to please, so the response on an individual level comes down to how you feel about these tropes. On the other hand, great performances don’t always make for a great film, unfortunately.
Pieces of a Woman (2020), directed by Kornél Mundruczó, is now streaming on Netflix, certificate 15. Watch the trailer below: