“Pieces of a Woman” is directed by Kornél Mundruczó and stars Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Jimmie Falls, Iliza Shlesinger, Sarah Snook and Ellen Burstyn. The film premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival as a Gala Presentation and was acquired for distribution by Netflix.
The first 20 minutes of “Pieces of a Woman” are some of the most suspenseful and nerve-wracking I’ve seen. The film follows Martha (Vanessa Kirby, “The Crown”) after the loss of her baby during a home birth. As someone who’s experienced labor and delivery four times, I can attest to Kirby’s portrayal in depicting the painful, exhausting experience of bringing a child into the world. These moments are so intimate, I even had flashbacks where I may have felt a contraction here and there.
Sadly, all the red flags are there of something going terribly wrong. The audience is aware of where this story is headed before Martha and her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf, “The Peanut Butter Falcon”) are, creating suspense that’s devastating as it progresses.
While watching this film, I was placed in a position I never thought possible. I thought about the unimaginable — losing a child — while feeling grateful for having four healthy daughters. I’ve dealt with the overwhelming sense of helplessness after losing a close family member, my mother. I also know there are a variety of coping mechanisms, particularly when the individual wrestles with the question, “What if?” What if I’d decided to do this instead of that? Would that person still be alive? Martha runs through these what-ifs regarding her decision to have a home birth, a choice that may haunt her for some time. How can a mother cope with a situation like Martha’s?
For the remainder of “Pieces of a Woman,” we witness the effects this unforeseen loss brings to the parents and everyone around them. At its core, the film is a character study of a woman dealing with the death of her baby by analyzing human relationships among family and friends, while also depicting the various forms of coping. Sean’s coping process isn’t given the same level of attention, but viewers may not mind. After all, the film is about Martha’s journey. There are several scenes between Martha and her mother that’ll emotionally move viewers.
I’m in awe of Kirby’s performance. After her devastating portrayal of labor and delivery, she transitions into more subtlety, still conveying an array of emotions in her grief. As a mother, I related to Martha’s character. Considering the trauma the body undergoes to deliver a baby, followed by the numerous modifications it endures to recover mentally and emotionally, Martha’s reaction to this loss is understandable.
“Pieces of a Woman” does have some pacing problems and forgettable moments in the middle. Nevertheless, it opens and ends strong. Kirby’s performance is a highlight, although the rest of the cast is potent as well.
I’m thrilled to see stories about women’s expectations socially and traditionally, their journeys navigating social norms, and their perspectives on normally underrepresented circumstances. “Pieces of a Woman” brilliantly captures a painful experience. My only warning is that for parents, it may be a tough watch.
Rosa is a Rotten Tomatoes certified film critic who’s passionate about advocating for Latinx and female representation. She’s the co-founder and co-host of the podcast Latinx Lens, which is focused on representation and contribution of the Latinx community in Television and Film industry. She’s the assistant editor of ITOL (In Their Own League), a site and podcast dedicated to highlight women in the industry. She’s proud member of HCA (Hollywood Critics Association), LEJA (Latino Entertainment Journalists Association), OAFFC (Online Association of Female Film Critics). She’s a coffee addict that unapologetically loves pineapple on her pizza.