Today i’m going to be reviewing pieces of a woman. The topic of this film may feel too heavy to bear but the powerful performances and meaningful portrayal of grief are well worth. The burden so hold your apple and hear me out.
Pieces of a Woman Film Cast
Vanessa Kirby … Martha
Shia LaBeouf … Sean
Ellen Burstyn … Elizabeth
Iliza Shlesinger… Anita
Benny Safdie … Chris
Sarah Snook … Suzanne
Pieces of a Woman Film Storyline and my view
Pieces of a woman follows a young mother who goes through a traumatic home birth experience that leads to tragedy. She then has to learn how to live alongside her loss and get back her voice. The most powerful part of the film is undoubtedly Vanessa Kirby’s performance as the main character of Martha. She leads the film with a hauntingly silent portrayal of grief. It is in the details that this character is made in how she holds her hands and, where she looks whether she chooses to join in on a conversation or stay silent. In an interview Vanessa Kirby describes the research that went behind her character, talking to people who had actually been through this experience as well as witnessing an actual birth.
I think this commitment to authenticity really shows especially in the fantastic opening. The opening mainly consists of the home birth scene that was shot in one long take and equals 23 minutes of the film’s run time. It was the first scene to be shot took two days and six takes to get right. According to the director, it is the fourth take that we see in the film, after which Kirby reportedly cried in real life.
It is easy to see why because those 23 minutes are an incredibly gripping and unforgettable part of the film, heavy with well-paced emotional beats that take us from joy to concern to sadness. The director and writer experienced this loss first hand. The director in an interview mentioned wanting to recreate the experience of the father, who predominantly is left to observe though fully invested emotionally. He is unable to do anything, as the events unfold.
In the opening scene the audience observing through the eyes of the camera become connected to this traumatic event. I think it was crucial to the success of this film, to have this initial connection, well made between the audience and the characters experience. Otherwise the rest of the events of the film would have been ineffective and felt distant. I think they did a fantastic job and made me eager to want to watch the rest of the film to get some sense of closure just as Martha does. The cinematography in this scene is outstanding. The rest of the film incredibly beautiful. There are very few wide shots in this film. The ones we do get have distinct emotional purpose for the most part though we get to see everything quite close.
The camera is often intimate with the drama. I think this really complemented the story. One thing i will mention that distanced me from the story in a negative way was the score. It was often overbearing and didn’t match the mood of the scenes, even in the powerful opening where we get a loving exchange between Martha and Sean in the bathroom. It was overwhelmed by the score. The scene was otherwise silent, which i think worked beautifully. Though i can understand wanting some subtle music to highlight this intimate moment. It was simply too much. In terms of closure we do get it by the end. For me it was too neat and too repetitive as we get three separate scenes depicting some sort of closure. The first one we get is a powerful scene where Martha finally finds her voice. This is followed by a scene that closes the quite satisfying bridge metaphor that exists within the film. Throughout the film we get shots of this bridge being built in different stages. On these shots there are dates to show the passing of time. As time passes Martha is building an emotional bridge to get over her trauma. The final scene depicting closure is the last scene of the film, which also serves to wrap up an apple motif that was used throughout the film. Within this scene it seemed that Martha was somehow whole again and that there were no more pieces of her to collect and repair. This seems inauthentic to the experience of grief, which thus far the film had been going through the beats of with careful consideration. The first closure scene would have been enough. The second scene was tolerable. However the third scene was totally unnecessary. I found in general that this apple motif felt disconnected from the rest of the drama and ruined the realism in the points where it was thrown in.
I get that it is quite a beautiful idea but it really wasn’t necessary to the success of this story. Especially given that we already had the image of the bridge which served a similar purpose. Another thing that felt unnecessary was the breaking up of Martha’s story with scenes depicting just Sean. Sean was a two-dimensional character in comparison to Martha. Yes some conflict is created between him and Martha’s mother, because he is not from a wealthy family. Yes he has a history of alcoholism that rears its ugly head when things get tough.
Ultimately i didn’t care about him. These parts of his character were presented to me Mata refactly, trying to push me towards feeling sympathy for him but not quite getting there. He wants to drink, he wants to sleep with Martha, he wants to sleep with other people he wants to move away Sean has many wants but they never seemed important to any of the characters. So i felt like why they should be important to me.
I think to be a more successful character his story needed to be better interwoven with Martha’s story or else to remove those ultimately pointless scenes just with him, so we can better focus on Martha. Where i do think focusing on another character was worth it is in the case of Martha’s mother Elizabeth played by Ellen Burstin. I do agree with critics saying that she looks like she should be her grandmother instead of her mother. But i also agree that her performance more than makes up for it. I think her character worked well to provide a different perspective on grief and how people deal with it.
As the older generation within the family she sees this tragedy happening to her daughter and experiences the loss in a different way with a much louder voice than Martha’s. She has a voice of action which is the direct opposite of Martha’s lack of voice and inaction. Elizabeth is not content with just accepting what has happened. Seeks to find someone to blame so she can remove the guilt that her daughter feels. With every misjudged action she makes. We understand the desperation she feels.
We are just as incapable of doing anything as she is. As an audience member it was interesting to consider whose side i was on. Having witnessed the traumatic event but also seeing it from a distance. Released during a time where so many people are filled with melancholy and many have been suffering with grief, whether first-hand or from a distance. Pieces of a woman hits differently than it would have during a normal year.
It is not a film there to make you smile or distract you but it is a film that can help you cope by showing an example of just how strong a person can be after tragedy hits.