Monday, 17 October 2022

Pieces of a Woman (2020)

The background to this film lies in the real life tragic event of the writer, Kata Wéber and director husband Kornél Mundruczó in Hungary. It's been adapted and dramatised from their real-life story in order to make a USA-based Netflix film and it really is very well produced.

We start with a long sequence as Martha is giving birth to a baby daughter alongside her partner Sean. It's a harrowing, long-winded, troublesome sequence which appears to have been shot in one take. She wants to give birth at home, so a midwife, standing in for her regular one, attends. Tragedy strikes - the child is born, but then lost.

The film then starts to open up various insights into Martha's life, her mother, sister, partner and how they all, but mainly Martha and Sean, attempt to deal with the loss. As you would imagine, there's huge impacts on the lives of everyone involved and we follow the pair closely as their lives begin to fall apart.

There's a side story being told about the midwife and how she is being hauled up in court as those impacted seem to want to string her up for gross professional misconduct, when it really was very questionable as to whether or not she could have done any thing differently to change the outcome of the event. In a growing blame culture, that turned into a national witch-hunt which the press were all over - though actually, that part of the film is very much secondary to us following the mourning, broken lives and portrait of those centrally dealing with the loss.

Vanessa Kirby (The Crown) is excellent in her central role alongside Shia LaBeouf (Fury, The Tax Collector) as they both portray the emotional roller-coaster ride from the joy of childbirth to the tragedy which awaits them. The supporting cast is also very convincing with the very experienced Ellen Burstyn picking up the role of Martha's mum.

There are lots of sub-plots and interesting asides going on such as the recurring theme of Apples, reflecting life and growth, the mother's experience in infancy during the holocaust and the resulting strength that she gained, her now fading memory with signs of the approaching end of her life, her manipulative behaviour to some around her - using money as a wrench and Sean's previous life of addiction threatening to surface once more.

It's a beautifully constructed film which could so easily have descended into a soppy weepie, but it doesn't. It's smart and intelligent, telling the tale as the audience gets alongside the main players, feeling the impact of their destroyed lives as they distance themselves from others around them.

It's also a story of hope, through the tragedy, as people seek to find a way back and, like the apples, generate new growth. There's no doubt that the most impactful scene of the film is that opening one though, which makes open-eyed engagement for the viewer as we watch the very difficult time everyone involved is having with the birth of the child.

It's still on Netflix as I write, so do give it a go.

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