Review by Sean Boelman
Sometimes all it takes is a single scene for a film to become memorable, and that is definitely the case with Kornél Mundruczó’s drama Pieces of a Woman. With a magnificent opening thirty minutes leading into an otherwise just rather solid film, this is a mostly riveting watch nevertheless.
The film tells the story of a grieving woman as she processes her emotion after losing a baby. It’s a story that most people couldn’t imagine and others will feel intense empathy for, but it will have a strong emotional impact on most viewers regardless. However, in its attempts to be subtle, it ends up feeling almost a little too quiet for its own good.
Without a doubt, the first act is the strongest portion of this film. Shot like a thriller, the film depicts a childbirth in a way that will fill the viewer with anxiety. And the fact that it’s easy to tell where the film is going doesn’t make it any easier to watch. However, the film then turns into a courtroom and domestic drama for the rest of its runtime, and it simply isn’t compelling.
In terms of execution, the film is really great, especially in the introduction. Benjamin Loeb’s camera is fluid and intimate, drawing the viewer into the drama quite effectively. And the score by Howard Shore, while used minimally as to not be overbearing, does a great job of accentuating the emotion of the actors.
Kata Wéber’s script really could have spent more time developing the relationships between the characters. Although the protagonist’s situation is undeniably tragic, and she earns the audience’s sympathy as a result, her feelings are really only explored on a surface level. And her relationship with her family definitely could have been more well-developed.
That said, Vanessa Kirby makes the most out of a character that is ultimately rather basic. Her performance has been getting all sorts of acclaim, and rightfully so, because she turns this material into something powerful and harrowing. Shia LaBeouf is fine in his supporting role, but doesn’t get much to do. Ellen Burstyn, Sarah Snook, and Molly Parker are all excellent in their bit parts as well.
The film supposedly focuses on the protagonist’s inner journey, but that is something that is difficult to trace. And while a phenomenally-delivered monologue at the end of the film does a great job of showing what the character’s growth is supposed to have been, the middle hour isn’t as dynamic as it needed to be.
Pieces of a Woman gets off to a brilliant start before coming back down to ground level. Vanessa Kirby’s performance is definitely one of the year’s best, and that opening scene is top-notch, but it ultimately could have been more.
Pieces of a Woman screened as a part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival which ran September 10-19.