When a young mother’s home birth ends in unfathomable tragedy, she begins a year-long odyssey of mourning that fractures relationships with loved ones in this deeply personal story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss.
- Martha Weiss: Vanessa Kirby
- Sean Carson: Shia LaBeouf
- Elizabeth Weiss: Ellen Burstyn
- Anita Weiss: Iliza Shlesinger
- Chris: Benny Safdie
- Suzanne Weiss: Sarah Snook
- Eva Woodward: Molly Parker
- Photographer: Steven McCarthy
- Judge: Tyrone Benskin
- Lane: Frank Schorpion
- Count Clerk: Harry Standjofski
- Medical Examiner: Domenic Di Rosa
- Max: Jimmie Fails
- Little Girl: Juliette Casagrande
- Judith: Gayle Garfinkle
- Linda: Vanessa Smythe
- Peter: Nick Walker
- Robert: Sean Tucker
- Tomb Maker: Alain Dahan
- Institute Official: Joelle Jérémie
- Nurse: Leisa Reid
- Original Music Composer: Howard Shore
- Producer: Aaron Ryder
- Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese
- Director: Kornél Mundruczó
- Producer: Kevin Turen
- Executive Producer: Sam Levinson
- Sound Mixer: Simon Poudrette
- Editor: Dávid Jancsó
- Casting: Jessica Kelly
- Executive Producer: Viktória Petrányi
- Writer: Kata Wéber
- Executive Producer: Aaron L. Gilbert
- Costume Designer: Rachel Dainer-Best
- Co-Producer: Paul Barbeau
- Key Makeup Artist: Joan Patricia Parris
- Co-Executive Producer: Andria Spring
- Executive Producer: Jason Cloth
- Supervising Sound Editor: Christopher Scarabosio
- Visual Effects Supervisor: Jean-François Ferland
- Makeup Artist: Cecilie Greve
- Production Design: Sylvain Lemaitre
- Sound Effects Editor: Don Mann
- Executive Producer: Stuart Manashil
- Costume Design: Véronique Marchessault
- Executive Producer: Steven Thibault
- Director of Photography: Benjamin Loeb
- Dialogue Editor: Karla Melendez
- Sound Recordist: Helge Bodøgaard
- Music Supervisor: Jen Malone
- Executive Producer: Richard McConnell
- Co-Executive Producer: Harrison Kreiss
- Makeup & Hair: Gemma Hoff
- Art Direction: Mette Haukeland
- Visual Effects Supervisor: István Vajda
- Producer: Ashley Levinson
- Makeup & Hair: Nancy Ferlatte
- Co-Executive Producer: Katia Washington
- Executive Producer: Suraj Maraboyina
- Set Decoration: Frédérique B. Ste-Marie
- First Assistant Director: Marc Larose
- Co-Executive Producer: Adam Somer
- Visual Effects Supervisor: Vajda-Gránicz Anikó
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I’ve never seen a movie from Kornél Mundruczó, but Pieces of a Woman started getting the usual awards buzz that comes with this time of the year. Once Netflix grabbed the distribution rights, it was just a matter of time until I got the chance to watch yet another Oscar-bait. I didn’t really think about it nor created any sort of expectations besides hoping it would be good. Vanessa Kirby (Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Hobbs & Shaw) and Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy) are the protagonists of a story that will connect with many people around the world, especially couples who went through the same situation. I’ll write it straight away: it’s undoubtedly one of the best films I’ve seen this past year.
How does it stand in comparison with the other marvelous movies? I’ll have to think about it when organizing my Top10, but Pieces of a Woman possesses the best opening act I’ve seen in quite a long time. For thirty full minutes (even before the title card shows up), an entire birth scene is delivered through excruciatingly long, uninterrupted takes, which ultimately make the whole sequence feel like a phenomenal oner. Technically, the entire film is brilliantly directed by Mundruczó, who takes advantage of the superb cinematography from Benjamin Loeb and Howard Shore’s beautiful score to offer the viewer an emotionally powerful viewing experience.
As fantastic as the technical attributes may be, Kata Wéber’s exceptionally well-written, detailed screenplay is really elevated by the incredible cast, notably its leads. Without the shadow of a doubt, Vanessa Kirby gives her career-best performance, demonstrating an emotional range I genuinely believed she didn’t have. Martha’s arc ends up being a tad predictable and formulaic as some other characters’ arcs and portions of the narrative, but I never felt less invested in the story due to that. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie that brought tears to my eyes before the end of the first act, which serves as a statement of the film’s realism and authenticity.
Shia LaBeouf might have also delivered his best interpretation ever, even though I truly love a couple of his past displays. Once again, the actor brings his A-game, demonstrating the talented acting skills that make him one of the most underrated actors working today, in my opinion. A particular aspect of Sean’s arc left me a bit dubious of its necessity and/or importance to the narrative, but just like Kirby’s character, I was always interested in their path. Molly Parker is also excellent as the midwife involved in the tragedy, while Ellen Burstyn portrays Martha’s mother, Elizabeth, leaving me deeply surprised by her outstanding performance. 88 years old… Magnificent.
Despite the highly expected developments and respective conclusions, the ending shares a touching revelation involving a particular trait from Kirby’s character that hit me really hard. The best aspect of the entire movie has a negative side effect, though. After such a mesmerizing, powerful, shocking first act, the rest of the film never quite reaches the same level of investment and immersiveness that the initial thirty minutes are packed with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a remarkably captivating narrative, filled with significant messages of forgiveness, acceptance, fairness, and another take on the “moving on” matter.
It will be extremely hard to watch for many people, but it’s that realistic environment that left me speechless and surprisingly emotional right from the get-go. It might not be a movie that I’ll rewatch countless times or even recommend to every single reader. Nevertheless, Pieces of a Woman carries an undeniably impactful story that tons of viewers will share a deep connection with, which every filmmaker tries hard to accomplish. Ultimately, concerning my Top10, it will come down to how much I value its immense quality vs. its low replay value.
All in all, Pieces of a Woman becomes a worthy awards contender, holding one of the best opening acts of the last few years. With astonishing direction from Kornél Mundruczó, the first thirty minutes are packed with extreme levels of anxiety and stress due to the emotionally shocking birth sequence, which is played out through excruciatingly long takes. Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf deliver their career-best performances, handling extensive monologues effortlessly, but it’s the former who leaves me mind-blowed at her emotional range, which induced tears in my eyes even before the title card. Kata Wéber’s exceptional screenplay is brought to life in a remarkably authentic, immersive manner, leaving me incredibly captivated by its characters, despite the formulaic and predictable arcs. Huge praise to Howard Shore’s wonderful score, and Benjamin Loeb’s terrific camera work, as well as Molly Parker and Ellen Burstyn’s excellent displays. I highly recommend it to anyone who’d love to watch an emotionally investing story with phenomenal acting but be advised: it can extremely hard to watch at times.
- SWITCH.: ‘Pieces of a Woman’ demonstrates how sometimes, even despite everyone trying their best, dark outcomes happen, and we don’t always get an answer for why. Thankfully, it also shows that there is a path for achieving post-traumatic growth, even under the most shattering of circumstances.
– Jake Watt
Read Jake’s full article…
- Louisa Moore – Screen Zealots: I feel like I can’t review “Pieces of a Woman” without first addressing the elephant in the room: the horrific and violent abuse claims against lead actor Shia LaBeouf. They’re so bad that Netflix has taken the man’s name off most ads for the film and, especially considering the subject matter, it seems appropriate. LaBeouf gives an absolutely heartbreaking performance, but the allegations surrounding the actor make some of the material feel very upsetting (in particular, a scene where LaBeouf’s character tries to force unwanted sex on his partner). But to dismiss this film would be unfair to the those who worked so hard both in front of and behind the camera.
The film tells the story of Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and her partner Sean (LaBeouf) over the course of a year, set off by the new mother’s home birth that ends in an unthinkable tragedy at the hands of a flustered midwife (Molly Parker). The grief begins to overwhelm the young couple, who are coping in very different ways. The first part of the movie highlights the deep love between the two but as the months tick on, their relationship become more fractured. Making things worse is Martha’s domineering mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), who never liked Sean and sees her daughter as a failure.
Director Kornél Mundruczó has fashioned a gripping portrait of loss and grief that rests firmly on Kirby’s shoulders. She gives a raw, physical and emotional performance that is truly outstanding. She and Burstyn create a realistic family dynamic which finally explodes when Martha and Elizabeth have a tense standoff over dinner. Mom wants her daughter to deal with the tragedy head-on instead of continuing to bury the pain. It’s one of the strongest scenes in the film, and the two actors make it unforgettable.
The film has a melancholy atmosphere and tone that complements the subject matter. Everything is increasingly bleak and drab as Martha and Sean continue to make a series of bad-to-worse decisions and behaviors that eventually destroy their lives together. They deal with grief in varying ways. She bottles her sadness inside while he lashes out with increased aggression. That’s part of what makes this story such a personal journey and makes it feel achingly authentic.
Despite its flaws (including a lousy ending and numerous metaphors about building bridges and growing apples), “Pieces of a Woman” doesn’t shy away from presenting an unflinching look at deeply wounded humans who are devastated by grief. It’s a tough film to watch, but it’s an effective, intimate look at bereavement, agony, and a pain that no one could possibly heal.