Harrowing and honest, Netflix’s “Pieces of a Woman” shines a light on life consumed by grief
January 21, 2021
Screenwriter Kata Weber has always wanted to tackle a difficult subject: miscarriage. She and director Kornél Mundruczó mapped a story about a young couple whose infant daughter dies just minutes after their home birth due to asphyxiation. When veteran filmmaker Martin Scorcese read the screenplay and fell in love with the idea, Weber and Mundruczó got to work and created “Pieces of a Woman”, Netflix’s newest drama film. Martha and Sean Weiss, the young couple faced with their daughter’s death, work to pick up the pieces of their shattered life as a couple, as people and as parents. They also fight against their midwife, who they filed a lawsuit against and claimed was responsible for their infant daughter’s death. As intense of a subject as it may be, “Pieces of a Woman” bravely tackles the reality of growing from the unbearable pain of losing a child you didn’t get to know.
There’s really only one way to describe a film such as this: intense. My emotions were all over the place as I watched Martha go through preliminary contractions, go into labor, celebrate the birth of her baby daughter and watch her witness her daughter’s death just moments later, all shot in one take lasting over twenty minutes. I’m pretty sure I took a pause after that scene to digest what I’d just seen, only to see the title pop up on the screen and realize I had almost the entire film left ahead of me. The more I continued on, the more my heart ached for this couple whose life was essentially ruined by the death of their daughter. Nothing about their relationship, their home, even the minivan they bought the day Martha went into labor was the same after the tragedy. Despite the weight this film carried, I credit Weber for creating intensity with a purpose, rather than just tension for the sake of tension. She sent a message about the realities of losing a child, and seeing that play out through Martha and Sean was really eye-opening to what so many couples suffer through.
What drew me to the film initially was its star, Vanessa Kirby. Kirby got her big break as Princess Margaret in the earlier seasons of “The Crown”, where she proved herself to be a powerful actress with intense, emotional prowess. She’s proven herself to be just as fierce this time around; without her as the star, “Pieces of a Woman” would be a completely different film. Kirby’s character, Martha Weiss,could easily have been one note character. She’s a mother consumed by grief, and though that makes up the majority of her journey through the plot, there’s so much more to her as a person. Kirby has the acting chops to bring out Martha’s intricacies and faults as she struggles to get over the grief of losing her child and getting her life back. In many ways, Kirby’s performance saved the film for me, and I relied heavily upon Martha as a character during the tougher moments of the film.
Another character I expected to really sympathize with but didn’t like at all was Sean, played by Shia LaBeouf. Unlike Kirby’s portrayal of Martha, Sean was one-note and made me angry more times than he was empathetic. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, yet I struggled to remind myself of that fact as Sean’s character made decisions that ruined his relationship and his own goals. For one, his sobriety, which he’d worked so hard to uphold, was thrown out the window shortly after his daughter’s death. He then began cheating on Martha, which isn’t fair to her or to himself. Part of me can’t tell if I didn’t like the character or if I didn’t like LaBeouf, because sometimes good actors are really good at making an audience hate their character. The current media frenzy he’s in regarding sexual assault allegations charged against him by musician and ex-girlfriend FKA Twigs could be why I was less inclined to like LaBeouf’s portrayal from the start, but I think it truly comes down to the fact Sean’s character arc was basically nonexistent and he began in practically the same place he started.
When I watch a film, especially one of this sad nature, what keeps me going is that sense of hope that something is going to turn out okay in the end. With “Pieces of a Woman”, that sense of hope was missing for me at times, and it made it really difficult to continue the movie without being so bereft as to where it was going to end up. Some could claim that Martha and Sean’s sense of hope was somehow gaining closure for the death of their daughter through the lawsuit and trial against their midwife, who operated the home birth, but nothing about that was hopeful to me as a viewer. I wasn’t sitting there necessarily rooting for the reality where the midwife gets locked behind bars. Rather, I was extremely conflicted about who to blame for the death, if anyone. Even at the film’s end, though there was growth that occured from the events that transpired, I still felt uneasy about the whole thing. That’s certainly on purpose; not every film made can be one that ends on a happier note than it may have begun, and there was nothing that Martha could’ve done to bring her daughter back. This film has made me realize that maybe super intense films such as these aren’t really for me.
However, there is something to be said about high-drama films such as these garnering lots of attention during awards season, and I have no doubt that we will be seeing some nominations for various people involved in this movie’s making. For starters, there’s been lots of talk about Kirby getting herself an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Martha, which I can see happening but can also see not happening. If she did get nominated, I don’t know that she’d win, but she’s definitely used this role to prove herself as an actress with a fruitful career ahead of her.
If you’re a fan of the type of film that leaves you thinking about it days after you’ve finished, this is definitely for you. Though a little more harrowing than the films I tend to enjoy, there’s something to be said for the raw honesty portrayed through these characters. This didn’t end up being something I would go back and rewatch just for the fun of it, but I really did learn a lot about the reality of losing a child shortly after birth and what that can do to a family. After all, there’s something to be said for films like these that expand your understanding of what grief and pain can do to a person, despite the harrowing way in which that reality is presented. Be sure to check out “Pieces of a Woman”, streaming on Netflix now.s