Pieces of a Woman review: hard look at sadness


One-shots, it remains something special in the film world. Many films that partially or even completely use the technique immediately catch the attention, or break pots in the awards season. Just think of The Revenant , Birdman or 1917 . At the most recent Venice Film Festival, that tradition was continued with Pieces of a Woman , which features an uninterrupted, much-written birth scene. But the film is really more than just that scene.

More than personal
Young couple Martha (Vanessa Kirby, Mission Impossible: Fallout , Hobbs & Shaw ) and Sean (Shia LaBoeuf) are expecting their first child. One night she goes into labor and because Martha wants to give birth at home, Sean calls their midwife. Only at that moment she already has another birth, so replacement Eva (Molly Parker) comes to assist them. Everything is going well until the baby’s heart rate suddenly drops dangerously. It seems to be fine once the baby arrives, but suddenly the girl stops breathing. She can’t be saved in the end. What follows is already a difficult period for the couple and their family, but a lawsuit is also being started against the midwife.

So the film deals with anything but an easy theme, and it is also very personal for the makers. The script is in fact by Hungarian theater maker Kata Wéber, based on her own play. She and her husband Kornél Mundruczó, who also directed Pieces of a Woman , once lost a child to a miscarriage. The midwife’s point of view is also based on real facts. Hungarian midwife Ágnes Geréb was once on trial for manslaughter when a baby died after a difficult home birth.

You really feel that personal influence in the script. First and foremost with that famous one-shot scene. I don’t have any children myself so I don’t speak from experience, but it already feels like you are following a real birth. The scene itself is about 25 minutes long, which is shorter than the average delivery. But just in the acting and the dialogues you almost forget that this is a fiction film. Especially compared to some scenes in other series and movies where it is all done on 1, 2, 3. The camera feels more like a documentary maker by keeping the necessary distance but still following everything in one smooth movement.

Vanessa Kirby is the star
The strong point of this film is indeed the acting, especially Vanessa Kirby. She has no children of her own but clearly did her research. For example, she reportedly watched several documentaries and shadowed midwives in London, which allowed her to attend a birth. Furthermore, her character goes through an evolution that naturally goes with slightly more downs than ups. Still, she plays the part more subdued, and that’s the right choice here. As is often the case for me, it’s not the “Oscar-worthy scenes” that make her so good, but rather the quieter moments and her reactions. Martha is the focus of the film and gives Kirby the chance to star. In retrospect, that’s a good thing.

Because there is also an elephant in the room. Shia LaBoeuf does a good job on its own, but I often have a hard time separating an actor’s real behavior from his performance. Especially when you see where his character is going, his role really gets a sour aftertaste. Of course that’s not the fault of the film or the makers, but I can’t be completely objective in that area. In addition, there is good support from Ellen Burstyn as the mother of Martha, who also does not have the most rewarding role.

Benjamin Loeb’s cinematography also deserves a special mention. It is very warm during childbirth, but rather cool after the dramatic event. He also often chooses close-ups in emotional moments. Howard Shore’s music is rather unobtrusive, slightly gloomy and soothing due to the use of the piano, but that fits well here. The story itself mainly follows the life of Martha and Sean after the death of their daughter. That attention to how they try to pick up their lives again, without suddenly throwing in a different storyline, does benefit the result. In the end, the movie itself felt maybe a little too long for me. But what does stay with me is the tour de force of Vanessa Kirby, who gives a serious business card here.