Vanessa Kirby was hailed as an Oscars contender when Pieces Of A Woman premiered at Venice Film Festival last year, but her performance has been overshadowed recently by allegations against her co-star Shia LaBeouf. Accused of sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress by former partner FKA Twigs in December, the actor has not taken part in the film’s press tour. Since then, Kirby has released a statement declaring unity with abuse survivors.
As a result, it is a dark cloud under which Kornél Mundruczó’s relationship drama arrives on Netflix. A moving portrait of a young couple coming to terms with the loss of their child, it stars Kirby as Martha, whose botched home birth plays out in one harrowing, 30-minute opening scene. Via a single, nerve-shredding continuous shot, Mundruczó captures each bead of sweat on Martha’s forehead, every involuntary burp and groan as she struggles through the ordeal. But it is all for nothing. Moments later, the baby dies quietly in its mother’s arms.
In the wake of their loss, Martha and Sean (LaBeouf) drift apart. Martha retreats inside herself, rejecting therapy and pursuing legal action against her former midwife. Sean, meanwhile, dives enthusiastically into his destructive vices of alcohol and drugs. Arguments rage between the pair, and bitterness slowly pulls their relationship apart. In documenting this, the film highlights how a shared traumatic experience has the power to amplify a couple’s differences and send a union into freefall. Pieces of a Woman was written by Mundruczó’s wife, Kata Wéber, who has said that she drew from her experiences following a miscarriage (albeit at an earlier stage than that depicted in the film) to explore how it affects a relationship. An early cut reached Martin Scorsese, who said that the “fluid” and “immersive” camera style impressed him so much that he asked to come onboard as an executive producer.
Some may find the movie’s relentless misery a bit too much to handle – there is little let-up throughout the two-hour runtime. But for fans of moody domestic dramas like Marriage Story and Manchester By The Sea, there’s plenty to like. Kirby’s performance – which bagged the Best Actress award at Venice – is scintillating. Whether or not LaBeouf’s inexcusable behaviour means fewer people will tune in remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, the scenes of relationship conflict are a harder watch in light of them. When considered on its own merits, however, Pieces of a Woman offers the sort of emotional rollercoaster ride that will leave viewers as distraught as its characters.
- Director: Kornél Mundruczó
- Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Ellen Burstyn, Shia LaBeouf
- Release date: January 8 (Netflix)