The ongoing tension between Hollywood and Netflix has been long documented, leading to countless accusations of voter bias when it comes to the Oscars’ minimal recognition for films released by the streaming service. But ever since the pandemic swept across the globe early in 2020 and devoured an entire movie theater industry in the process, Netflix immediately pounced on the opportunity to gobble up as many perspective awards season hopefuls as possible in hopes of taking advantage of the Academy’s new lax rules and dominating the ceremony once and for all. One such title comes in the form of Pieces of a Woman, the latest from Hungarian filmmaker, Kornél Mundruczó, which took home a pair of coveted prizes from its Venice Film Festival debut in September.
Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf star as Martha and Sean, a Boston area couple expecting their first child who experience a living nightmare when their planned home birth ends in an indescribable tragedy. The aftermath of this grave and unexpected loss shatters the world around them, testing their limits as a couple and fracturing other close relationships. Would litigation against the midwife who oversaw this tragedy bring any semblance of peace and closure to Martha? Are peace and closure even possible?
There are questions abound in Kornél Mundruczó’s harrowing and heavy-hitting drama Pieces of a Woman. The film opens with a technically savvy 20+ minute continuous shot of the entire home birth. And while the novelty of such long takes has certainly worn thin in recent years, it’s still an impressive feat that adds intensity to these foundational moments of the story. Following this opening, the narrative immediately shifts to a gut-wrenching and emotional examination of grief. It’s here where the film dives into more personal questions as we see the first-hand struggles of both Martha and Sean. The former desperately in need of a supportive voice against her mother’s (Ellen Burstyn) overbearing wishes, and the latter fighting against temptation after nearly 6 years of sobriety. Behind all of these subplots remains a legal backdrop which poses the interesting debate of culpability surrounding a midwife in such grim and devastating instances. While Kata Wéber’s screenplay focuses more on the characters rather than devote itself to the delicacies of this controversial debate, taking the easier road doesn’t necessarily spoil the fruit. Instead, Pieces of a Woman allows the emotions of its characters to marinate in compelling fashion and succeeds at the hands of three consequential performances from Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf and the legendary Ellen Burstyn. The most impressive and Oscar-destined turn clearly belongs to Burstyn, as she absolutely commands the screen throughout her powerful late-film monologue. Pieces of a Woman may not be a fun or enjoyable watch, but it comes with awards season aspirations for a reason. If you can withstand the movie’s dark subject matter, there are plenty of artistic achievements worth admiring here.