Pieces of a Woman (2020), directed by Kornél Mundruczó and written by Kata Wéber, is a drama film that follows the unraveling of a woman and her ties to her family following a tragic incident at her home. Based on the stage play of the same name, the story of Pieces of a Woman is inspired by the lives of Mundruczó and Wéber, who are a married couple. Their deeply personal interpretations of what occurred both in their lives and in the film lead to an emotionally heavy and heartbreaking portrayal on the big screen, but one that also contains feelings of hope and promise. Even if the events shown in the film may not strike a personal chord with some audiences, its passionate acting will certainly inspire those who watch.
That being said, while the film has a sufficient amount of dynamic and moving scenes, there are a lot of unnecessary components that make a good portion of the film feel bland and uninteresting. While there are three particular scenes that really stand out and redeem the quality of the film overall, unfortunately they are not enough to make up for the monotony of the rest of the film. Like many movies these days, the film pushed for a runtime of over 2 hours, and as a result, the quality of the plot and its pacing suffered. The particularly long runtime felt unnecessary, and truthfully the film could have been shortened down a lot to include only key scenes and a little filler in between.
Pieces of a Woman follows a married couple, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), who are expecting their first child. The film opens with a baby shower and the purchase of a new car, a mini van, that shows how excited the couple is about adding a new member to their small family. The first 30 minutes of the film lead into Martha’s labor at home, where she has planned to have a homebirth with a midwife present instead of going to the hospital. The scene is slow and an uncomfortably raw portrayal of what having a baby looks like, but it also takes the time to show the emotional journey of Martha and Sean as they welcome their child into the world. However, their happiness is extremely short-lived. The stand-in midwife notices too late that their baby, a daughter, is having difficulty breathing. Right as the bright red lights of an ambulance start flashing in front of their home, their baby passes away. It is a cruelly sad fade to black as the title of the film flashes on the screen.
Although difficult to watch, this opening sequence deserves considerable praise. It shies away from the typical movie birth scene formula of how the woman’s water breaks, and then a baby pops out a mere five minutes later. Mundruczó took the time to show what the process is really like; slow, painful, and accompanied by many unpleasantries. Vanessa Kirby also does an excellent job of acting in this scene, and makes it look very real and believable, despite not having any children herself in real life. The hard work that Martha puts in to have her baby makes her daughter’s death all the more devastating, especially with the way she quietly passes as the screen fades to black, and we are subsequently transported one month into the future.
What follows is a journey of grief between Martha, Sean, and Martha’s family members. Surprisingly, the film focuses less on Martha and shows more of the grieving process of those around her. Sean, who has a history of addiction, is devastated and rashly acts out. From relapsing into drinking and doing drugs again to cheating on his wife, he can’t seem to get a grip on anything. What is even more striking is the way Martha turns cold and unfeeling after her baby’s death; she is distant from everyone, returns to her workplace as if nothing happened, and refuses to talk about the incident openly. She clashes frequently with her mother, Elizabeth, who is adamant that they have a proper funeral for the baby in order to get closure and move on.
As time passes, month by month, it gets harder to watch how everyone is still processing the baby’s death. Sean and Elizabeth are so consumed by their suffering that they can’t help themselves, much less help Martha, who acts like she wants to forget the whole thing. Their ties to each other slowly unravel until there is no semblance of family support or love left. The film crafts a heartbreaking story of how damaging grief and depression can be, and it does not include a tidy ending that brings everyone back together. Much like real life, the characters’ feelings are complicated, and their relationships to each other are forever changed.
In addition to the characters’ unimaginable grief, a trial is being held for the midwife who was present. She faces a lawsuit for medical malpractice, and understandably, it’s the last thing Martha wants to be a part of. The courtroom scene that takes place is perhaps the best part of the entire film—it is powerful, moving, and brings the focus back to Martha and how she has been dealing with what happened. After all, the story of loss is supposed to be centered around her, but the attention on her was lacking as it shifted to the other people in her life. After over an hour of watching monotonous “filler” scenes, the courtroom scene reminds you what this film is really trying to say; it is a beautiful representation of Martha making her own decisions.
In conclusion, while this film does have its poignant and masterfully crafted parts, unfortunately the overall blandness of it brings down the story that it worked so hard to create. It simply is not a film worthy of consuming over two hours of your free time, especially if you don’t personally identify with the circumstances or the grief that the characters are experiencing. If you’re looking for a movie that will provide you with a good cry, then go watch Titanic for the sixth time; Pieces of a Woman is too artsy and simply too long to keep you entertained for the entire run time.