I was given the privilege by the American Film Institute, Netflix and The Hawaii Film Critics Society to be one of the first to see “Pieces Of A Woman”. The new Netflix original film from executive producer Martin Scorsese and Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó, in his first English language film that has already received best feature and best actress for Vanessa Kirby at the Venice Film Festival. It’s early praises and award wins is well earned as it’s a bold and somber film, that’s an often riveting family drama harkening back to the gut punch dramas of the 1970s. Vanessa Kirby establishes herself here as the next big A-list star. Her performance is so good that it highly seems unlikely that she won’t get some major attention during this year’s Oscar race. Sharing admirable screen time with Vanessa Kirby is Shia LaBeouf who brings tenderness and vulnerability to his role, revealing a mature side of himself we don’t get to see. At 87 years old the legendary Ellen Burstyn, is still a screen presence and is as good as she’s ever been. She turns in a late monologue into a showstopper that will be sure to earn her an Oscar nomination. Keep an eye out for this one when it comes to Netflix because “Pieces Of A Woman” is a superb film. A throwback to the mature masterclass acted dramas of the 1970’s in one of the best films to come out of an uneven year at the movies.
Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó, has just released his first English language film “Pieces Of A Woman”. His debut film gotten its world premiere in September at the 77th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Arca CinemaGiovani award for best film and star Vanessa Kirby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. It’s scheduled to be released in select theaters on December 30th, if the pandemic doesn’t prevent that. If all else fails it will be released digitally on Netflix (who bought the film rights after premiering at Venice) on January 7th 2021.
All of the early praises to “Pieces Of A Woman” and it’s award wins is well earned. It’s a bold and somber film, that’s a praiseworthy choice for Netflix to have acquired, as it’s an often riveting family drama that harkens back to the gut punch dramas of the 1970s. There are a few things that’ll keep people talking, especially that of Vanessa Kirby. Known for her roles in Netflix’s original series “The Crown” and “Hobbs and Shaw”, Kirby establishes herself here as the next big A-list star. Her performance is so good that it highly seems unlikely that she won’t get some major attention during this year’s Oscars race (hoping that there is one).
Executive produced by the legend himself Martin Scorsese, directed by Kornél Mundruczó and frequent collaborator Kata Wéber (who wrote the screenplay), builds a story around an unlikely couple from opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Vanessa Kirby’s Martha is a high heeled wearing, high-paying associate at an office job with a rich family, that’s headed by Ellen Burstyn as their driven matriarch. Her partner in life played by Shia LaBeouf as Sean is a blue-collar rough and tumble sort, who is looked down on from Martha’s family as boorish, but he is also funny in a corny way and easy to get along with, provided that he sticks to his hard earned sobriety.
Things go to hell quickly for Martha and Sean, when their home-birth goes wrong, with the late arrival of a replacement midwife (Molly Parker) who may or may not be the right person for the job. From there, the relationship between Martha and Sean starts to come apart at the seams.
A legal battle in the courtroom lies at the heart of “Pieces of a Woman”. Instead Mundruczó concentrates our attention on the Martha and Sean, both of whom are shattered by the experience. But especially on Martha, as we see how she comes to terms with the tragedy. This includes agonizing scenes as she desires for a baby that’s no longer there and has to deal with a mom who’s looking for someone to punish (in this case the possibly innocent midwife). Martha has more to rebuild than just her relationship with everyone around her. It is also her very identity that’s on the line.
Aside from the acting masterclass from Vanessa Kirby. Audiences will be talking about the virtuoso 23-minute one shot opening sequence. It’s an elaborate, unbroken sequence that stretches the duration of the entire scene in which Martha gives birth. Director Kornél Mundruczó captures the miracle of delivery in all its joy and agony. He strips it of any glamour in a sequence that I can only imagine what kind of careful planning and what was required for the sequence. Mundruczó gives the precious birth rite, that is shared by so many women a sharp sense of suspense. Audiences must discover for themselves what happens, but the results and the way it is shot aren’t typical and it will take the rest of the film to process the shock of what happens.
While he maybe a complicated personality off-screen, Shia LaBeouf is as method an actor as they come and is always on his game in every role. He brings tenderness and vulnerability to the role of Sean, revealing a side (and parts) of himself we don’t see. LaBeouf gets a lot of screen time (more than I thought he would) and is is excellent in portraying a lover and soon to be father that deals with his grief by going down a road laced with self destruction, pulling apart his already fragile life piece by piece. He says: “I’ve come back from death before” and this latest setback could send him to the brink again.
It’s another heavy part for the always committed LaBeouf, and it’s a mature role for a much more mature LaBeouf who has come a long way from his days on Disney’s “Even Stevens”. His scenes with Vanessa Kirby are sweet, but also unnerving with a ramped-up intensity as they both try to make sense of this tragedy. Their inner demons reemerge and they become less like a couple and more like two separate, individuals.
Casting an actress as mighty and legendary as Ellen Burstyn was a choice option that helps makes her character that much more imposing. At 87 years old Burstyn is still a screen presence and is as good as she’s ever been. She turns in a late monologue into a showstopper telling a story about her own mother’s experience with her during The Holocaust and giving Martha advice with intensity: “I know what it’s like to start over. You have to burn bridges”. Burstyn like Kirby, will also be a likely candidate at the Oscars but for the best supporting actress category.
Also look out for “Uncut Gems” co-director Benny Safdie and “The Last Black Man In San Francisco” actor Jimmie Fails, while comedian Iliza Shlesinger goes dramatic playing Vanessa Kirby’s sister. While Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn are admirable performers in impressive performances. This is ultimately Kirby’s movie and delivers her most impressive screen performance, not just in the remarkable commitment of that childbirth scene, but in the way she navigates the character’s uncertainty for the rest of the film.
Martha has such a complicated reaction, both physically and psychologically, including carrying the damage wrought by a domineering mother. Kirby’s delivery couldn’t have been easy for Kirby to decide how to play the many facets of her character as devastated yet resilient and angry but empathetic. Only Kirby could have taken the pieces of the puzzle that Mundruczó has given her and turn it into such an astonishing portrait.
Keep an eye out for this one when it comes to Netflix in January. Either way everyone will hear a lot about it come the Oscars as I suspect it will be up for at least best actress, supporting actress and best picture. “Pieces Of A Woman” is a throwback to the mature masterclass acted dramas of the 1970’s in one of the best films to come out of an uneven year at the movies.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4.5 out of 5)