Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Writer(s): Kata Wéber
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn
Synopsis: A grieving woman embarks on an emotional journey after the loss of her baby.
We have seen loss and grievances play out in film for as long as they have been made. We have seen pain and hurt in such a way that can shake you to the core and make an audience feel the film in such an impactful and powerful way. A way that can break down the fourth wall of filmmaking and make you feel for these characters as if they were your family, friends, or even yourself.
In Pieces of a Woman, we are introduced to these characters, and this moment, in one of the most meticulously shot and excruciating long takes I have ever seen. Many people see a long take as a filmmaker gimmick to appeal to the audience, and in some ways they are right. However, an effective long take is one that can trap an audience in the moment and keep them throughout the entirety of the process. Here, Mundruczó conducts one of the finest long takes I have ever seen, keeping the audience on edge throughout and lifting them to a peak before ultimately tearing them down in such a heartbreaking and sorrowful way. The sound and the music choices wrapped in with everything that was happening in front of the camera, this scene created one of the most visceral moments of film I have seen in a long time.
From the moment the title card drops to the end, we are stuck chasing that opening scene. I can’t fault the filmmakers here, but it did become an issue, until the very end, of trying to recreate the realism and power of that moment. It makes sense in the way that from the title on, the movie was focused more on grief rather than the explosion of the moment, but the rest of the movie just couldn’t match what the opening number did.
This isn’t a discredit to the film at all however, as for the next hour and a half after the opening, we are in this world with these broken people and are having to live in their grief. Each person grieves in a different way, and each of them brings their own troubles to the story. LaBeouf, Martha’s partner, who I believe is so natural at being able to fit into any role he is given, provides the exterior emotion of the film. LaBeouf is the one who is expressing himself the most as a true outsider in this film. I am going to go against what seems to be the grain and say I absolutely loved him in this movie.
Ellen Burstyn, Martha’s mother, brings a sense of regret to the film. The regret of not being able to do enough for her daughter at the moment, and the regret of feeling she didn’t do enough for her daughter in the past. She hurts, but her hurt is clearly different from the rest. In a powerful monologue, she explains her regret and her feelings and it is so tough to watch. Burstyn absolutely shines in this film.
However, from the opening of this movie to the very end, this is the Vanessa Kirby show. Vanessa Kirby, playing Martha, is so brilliant bringing a grieving that only a mother can feel. The pathos she has in this movie floored me from her small gestures to her outburst and big moments. The range of emotions, not to mention the physical acting, is some of the absolute best I have seen this year. Kirby is a downright star, and this movie will prove that.
The camera work here was so precise at times, and then at other times was all over the place. It would go from a realistic view of certain situations to a melodramatic look at pain and suffering. While it couldn’t find its groove, it did enough to keep me invested in the situation that these characters were facing. The poetic score and use of sound was another thing I found to be absolutely breathtaking, providing one of my favorite singular moments of the year to this point.
Grief comes in stages, it can hit hard at one point, and at others, it can seem like a blur, but it is always there and always prevalent. While this film doesn’t manage to get everything right, it does capture that sense of grief and longing in a way that is so beautifully hard to watch. While it may not be able to recapture the feeling that the opening gives off, it is able to still be an effective and heartbreaking look at loss, regret, and pain.
Final: Pieces of a Woman struggles slightly to find its footing again after the breathtaking opening scene, but when it finally manages to bring it all together, it does so in an incredibly heartbreaking ending. Shia LaBeouf continues to shine, Ellen Burstyn flashes greatness, but this is Vanessa Kirby’s film as she shows she is an absolute star.
Current Tomato Score: 81%
Current Metacritic: 69
Awards Prospects: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress
ON NETFLIX JANUARY 7
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.