Pieces of a Woman: A Naked Depiction of Mother’s Loss

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Zu Aplaon

Pieces of A Woman released in January this year on Netflix is the film, chosen by a mother to watch this Mother’s Day. This mother is Zu Aplaon, a mathematics professor from the beautiful island of Mindoro, Philippines.  For her, with movie and coffee, life is already a luxury. Here she shares with us why she chose this film and what she thinks after watching the film.

Pieces of a Woman is a 2020 Canadian-American drama directed by Kornél Mundruczó and written by Kata Wéber adapted from the stage play of the same name. It had its world premiere on September 4, 2020, at the 77th Venice International Film Festival where Kirby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. Kirby was also nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe,  BAFTA Award, Critic’s Choice Award, and Screen Actors Guild for her phenomenal performance in the film.

The story of the film revolves around a young couple Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), who are expecting their first child. Sean works on a bridge construction company while Martha earns through a white-collar job. The couple had an unhealthy relationship with the rest of the family. At home, the couple talks casually about giving birth until Martha started to feel the contraction. The midwife couldn’t come because she is currently attending another delivery and send a replacement instead. What follows next is the 23-minute long take  home-birth scene that may be one of the most gripping, painful, and brutal opening scenes anyone could see in recent years.

Molly Parker & Vanessa Kirby in the film

The cinematography is flawless and raw like footage perfectly capturing the emotional dynamics of the characters. Benjamin Loeb shot Sean’s back during gut-wrenching scenes. A brilliant technique depicting how men hide their emotions so was Sean’s face to the audience. Howard Shore stirs audiences’ emotions through the almost silent score. Musical score dynamics were presented through soft piano solo during agonizing scenes while the louder musical ensemble played every time Martha is walking alone.

 Shia LaBeouf had shown spot-on performance in portraying Sean and handling its dynamics. His happiness, frustration, anguish, self-disgust, hopelessness, lust, and breaking down were beyond perfection. Vanessa Kirby’s performance was a tour de force. She essayed Martha’s persona as a devastated but resilient, angry but emphatic, strong but broken woman with utmost honesty. Elizabeth Weiss (Ellen Burstyn), a well-off old lady in her early stage of dementia showed superior internalization of her character. She owns the screen as she delivered the remarkable monologue painstakingly narrating her past and encouraging Martha to stand for herself. 

Ellen Burstyn, director Kornél Mundruczó and Vanessa Kirby

The storytelling was done showing 8 significant dates each opened with the bridge Sean is building. The use of visual storytelling was remarkable making the audience feel the joy, confusion, and unbearable pain of the characters. The opening scene was so strong that the rest of the film started to decrescendo. Just like how the narrative seemed fractured, the plot was inconsistent too. At some points, the audience would lose grip of the story because it lacks details. The story focused so much on Martha’s characterization neglecting details thus making the climax a bit rushed and the transition of events incoherent.

The plot was a bit ambitious trying to tackle PSTD, domestic violence, extra-marital relationship, and coping with the lawsuit however the last was not handled properly. The screenplay should have been taut if Webér invested in much-needed details like the precedent of the courtroom drama. The symbolism of the apple didn’t pull off but the bridge as an analogy of the couple’s relationship was clever. Despite its shortcoming on the plot, Mundruczó was able to produce an honest depiction of a family battling for anguish, anger, and grief towards letting go and moving on.

Watching this movie on Mother’s Day could make any mom retrospect on the pain and struggles of giving birth (I also opted for a home birth  for my firstborn). As being a mother is the essence of being a woman (Sushmita Sen, 1994), I can’t imagine the pain of feeling that for just a second and losing it seconds after. This day could be blissful to every mother but depressing to a woman who almost becomes a mom or those who could never become a mom. Pieces of a Woman is a naked depiction of a shattered woman’s quest for self-redemption.