Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Writer: Kata Wéber
Stars: Vanessa Kirby, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, and Ellen Burstyn
By Morgan Roberts
When Martha’s (Vanessa Kirby) home birth ends tragically, she must begin a year-long journey of mourning the loss of not only her child, but the relationships fractured by this catastrophe. “Pieces of a Woman” (2020) is a harrowing film, one which could be triggering. So, if even after this review, you still can’t put yourself through this two-hour journey, it’s understandable. Watching this film is not easy. It is a jaw-dropping, achy portrayal of grief.
This film has already been marred by the allegations of abuse from one of its stars. Neither that star nor their performance will be mentioned in this review. This individual does not deserve our time. But, I do want to take the time for anyone needing resources to reach out to Domestic Violence Support (https://www.thehotline.org/) at 1-800-799-7233 in the United States or this resource guide (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help) if you live in the UK.
And while this film has had its share of controversy, the subject of the film is extremely timely in another manner. “Pieces of a Woman” tackles the unspoken yet common tragedy of pregnancy loss and infant mortality. There have been public figures discussing their experiences. From Chrissy Teigen and John Legend documenting and sharing the loss of their son Jack, to Meghan Markle detailing her miscarriage, the past year has seen more and more individual openly discussing this ‘taboo’ topic.
In this film, director Kornél Mundruczó and writer Kata Wéber walk us through this common reality. It explores the small nuances of losing a newborn child, from Martha needing to ice her chest at the end of the day since there was no baby to breastfeed, to her having to tear down the “nest” she built for her daughter. It is those small details that make the biggest parts of the film pack a major punch. In addition, the way an apple motif is weaved throughout the film will, at first, keep you intrigued, and end leaving you feel both heartbroken and hopeful.
There are some truly sublime performances. Ellen Burstyn is garnering Oscar buzz for her performance as Martha’s mother, Elizabeth. Burstyn demonstrates the push and pull that comes not just with being a mother, but being a woman also carrying her own unseen tragedy. There is a speech she gives to her daughter, imploring her to hold the negligent midwife accountable, that takes your breath away. Meanwhile, said negligent midwife Eva is brilliantly and empathetically portrayed so beautifully by Molly Parker. The role essentially bookends the film. Parker knew the poignancy of this: there are moments Eva is flustered by the not-textbook delivery but attempts to regain control and calm during a stressful situation.
The real MVP of this film is Kirby. Her performance is stunning from start to finish. From her depiction of childbirth to her depiction of grief, Kirby gave one of the most human performances to grace the screen this awards season. She makes you love and feel for Martha. Even when Martha is attempting to push everyone else away, Kirby never lets her push the audience away. Every year, we see extraordinary performances from female actors, and this is truly one of the best. The birth scene is one of the most impressive and intense film sequences I have ever seen. Meanwhile, it is her work in the courtroom scenes that I had a visceral reaction to.
While the film struggles to recapture the raw moments of the first 30 minutes, the ending of the film, coupled with the apple motif, will make this film stay with you. Kirby wrote on her Instagram: “For whoever needs it, who like Martha, is a survivor – I hope this film is a figurative holding of your hand. You are not alone.”
If you or someone you know has suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or ectopic pregnancy, there are resources available. (Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support – http://nationalshare.org/; March of Dimes – https://www.marchofdimes.org/; International Stillbirth Alliance – https://www.stillbirthalliance.org/; Miscarriage Association – https://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/)