Netflix UK film review: Pieces of a Woman
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jan 2021
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Snook, Molly Parker
Watch Pieces of a Woman online in the UK: Netflix UK
From The Crown to Mission: Impossible and the Young Vic’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Vanessa Kirby has repeatedly stolen the show in all manner of productions. With Pieces of a Woman, the excellent actor gets a chance to take centre stage – and it’s testament to how powerful her performance is that she spends that time in the spotlight shrinking away from it.
She plays Martha, the wife of Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and soon to be mother of their child. But what begins as an excited, upbeat tale of expectant parents soon turns into an intimate, intense horror story, as we follow Martha through a labour that goes harrowingly wrong. Filmed by director Kornél Mundruczó (White God) in a single take, it’s a 25-minute sequence that gives us no choice but to live through the trauma right alongside her, and that almost intrusive approach sets the tone for a heart-wrenching, sensitively told drama.
Miscarriages and infant deaths aren’t subjects that get discussed publicly, or indeed privately, very often. Mundruczó and writer (and real life partner) Kata Wéber tear down those taboo barriers, zooming in close on such a tragedy and then continuing to linger in that limbo, refusing anyone a chance to brush the topic out of sight. It’s a deeply honest exploration of loss and grief, one that rings with personal experience and truth.
A lot of that is down to the cast. Shia LaBeouf is strong as Sean, who retreats back into substance abuse to escape the sorrow, although recent headlines about LaBeouf’s off-screen behaviour brings an uncomfortable quality to his scenes. Vanessa Kirby, however, is the one you can’t look away from, and she delivers a remarkable turn that’s as physical as it is internalised, as Martha gradually trying to piece together the fragments of her life, no thanks to a husband who takes her withdrawn mourning as a personal slight against him.
The film is best when it’s charting those shifting tensions, with Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s mother, Elizabeth, only adding to her daughter’s stress as they clash over questions of responsibility and how to react to the situation. The script is less effective when it comes to a courtroom plot that involves dubious lawyer Suzanne Weiss (an excellent Sarah Snook) and the couple’s replacement midwife (Molly Parker) – a key speech delivered here is as subtle as a monologue about bridges or a motif involving apple seeds – but the cast sell their pain with conviction through every pointed, poignant scene. Bringing a voice to a subject that’s rarely spoken about, Pieces of a Woman is a bold and moving piece of cinema – and one that makes a biggest impact during its moments of silence. At the film’s quietly devastating core, Kirby deserves all of the awards attention going.
Pieces of a Woman is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.