‘PIECES of a Woman’ stars Vanessa Kirby, the British actress who got much acclaim for her role as the headstrong Princess Margaret in “The Crown” Seasons 1 and 2, and who we liked so much as White Widow in “Mission Impossible: Fallout”. She now plays the leading role in this domestic drama about grieving which won for her the Volpi best actress award in the Venice International Filmfest.
The film is based on a stageplay by Karen Weber, who also wrote the screenplay, as directed by Kornel Mundruczo. Vanessa plays Martha Weiss, an expectant mom in Boston on the last stage of her pregnancy. Her partner, Sean Carson (Shia LaBoeuf) is a construction worker and her rich mom, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), doesn’t approve of him, but she buys them a new minivan which, Sean thinks, is her way of emasculating him.
That same night, Martha starts feeling contractions and they call the midwife who’s supposed to help her give birth at home, which is their choice. But she is busy assisting another prospective mom somewhere else and sends a replacement, Eva (Molly Parker.)
This happened to us with our first born. The night our wife started going into labor, we called up her obstetrician but she’s also giving birth herself at that time, so we have to hastily look for another OB-GYN who doesn’t know the history of our wife’s pregnancy at all, so she ended undergoing CS. It was a very frightening experience, to say the least.
For the film’s next 25 minutes, we will see Martha’s pain and suffering as she goes into labor. It’s quite excruciating to see her writhe and groan. This very immersive sequence is really bound to be talked about as it’s just shot with one long, unbroken take. The nice thing is it’s shot not with the usual handheld camera that can be jarring, but with a gimbal that provides pivoted support to keep it upright even when the camera is rotating and rolling.
The child comes out, a baby girl, and she cries for a while then quickly turns blue. They call 911 for an ambulance but she passes away. The film is about the trauma the couple went through and how the grief affects their relationship. If you’re looking for light, escapist entertainment, then this film is not for you as it can be quite emotionally wrenching.
We see the relationship of the couple slowly disintegrating. Relatives and friends of Martha blame the midwife. Court proceedings start against her and they hope she will rot in jail for her perceived negligence during the baby’s delivery.
Sean and Marth react differently. Between them, it’s Sean who seems to be more badly affected, He wants to find out what is the cause of the baby’s death, but Martha is not interested. Her mom wants to give the baby a decent funeral, but Martha even chooses to donate their baby’s remains to science for study.
At home, Sean wants to maintain the nursery they have prepared for the baby, but Martha refuses to do so. Sean initiates for them to have sex, but Martha is apparently not ready. Sean eventually has sex with the lawyer handling the prosecution of their case.
He also returns to drugs, cigarettes and booze, after being clean for six years. It’s his way of coping with and escaping from the anguish he feels. Martha’s mom tells him she never liked him and gives him a check to leave Martha for good. He accepts it. He tries to convince Martha to join him but she refuses. She takes him to the airport and he leaves for Seattle.
This movie got glowing reviews abroad. We know different people have different ways of reacting to crisis situations. But personally, we cannot relate with the movie. Maybe the reaction of Martha is common in Western countries, but we have seen so many local couples who have also lost their baby but react more positively.
Instead of their losing their baby causing the collapse of their relationship, it actually helps them to become close with one another as they decide to go through it together. Maybe, Filipinos are really tougher, more resilient.
We have four sisters in Australia and they tell us the government there is all out in helping its citizens during this season of the pandemic, but people still whine and get so depressed. We tell them these despondent folks should be sent to Manila where lots of people are jobless but still fight and go on with their lives.
Our main complaint is that the film actually fails to get inside the character played by Vanessa. We don’t really get to feel the darkness she is going through. They made her reaction so muted, so internalized, and it fails to give us an intimate bond with her.
With Filipino moms, they will let it all out with a good cry, mourn with the caring people around them, and then go on with their lives. But with Vanessa’s Martha, we cannot feel for her as she looks so detached. We don’t feel the depth of her grief as she’s alienated even to her own mom and sister.
Actually, we get to feel more empathy for Shia’s character as he looks more affected. Even when he’s committing infidelity, he looks so vulnerable and is really making an effort to hold on to Martha after losing their child, but she’s the one who resists him.
In its final sequences, the film turns into a courtroom melodrama and Vanessa is given the chance to deliver a touching speech where she absolves Eva from her baby’s death in front of the very people who are expecting her to pin down the midwife.
Then she goes home and sees that the apple seeds she has kept inside the refrigerator have sprouted. Honestly, if the seeds symbolize something, it’s lost on us. There was a reference to it in the courtroom but it was cut short and we’re left wondering what it’s all about.
In the film’s conclusion, there’s a girl going up an apple tree and it’s a sequence that the shows filmmakers efforts to give it a happy ending after all the agony we went through. The film’s sequence showing Vanessa go into labor is really its most intense and involving moments but after it, it’s all downhill and never goes up to that level again.
Vanessa has the most demanding role and she stands out, but she gets splendid support from Shia, Molly and from Ellen Burstyn as her controlling and domineering mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s every now and then. She is given her own show-stopping highlight in a monologue where she explains the experiences she went through as a child that hardened her. It actually explains much of her more than anything Martha revealed about herself.