STORY: Tragedy befalls on the night of the home birth of their first child, and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and Martha (Vanessa Kirby) are struck by insurmountable grief. ‘Pieces of a Woman’ is a mirror view of this young couple, crumbling under turmoil and torture.
REVIEW: Before baby Yvette was born, hyper yet precise construction worker Sean had a beautiful partner to go home to. “Martha is fine… she is always fine,” he confirms, when a colleague enquires about her health and the then impending delivery. When Martha’s water breaks, a polite and professional stand-in for their original choice of mid-wife – Eva (Molly Parker) – shows up to their doorstep. Mildly disappointed, Sean ushers her in and thus begins the first 30 minutes of what can be perceived as the most authentic aspect of this borderline melodrama – intricate details of a home birth. The rest of it is a poignant glare back at the tragedy that is life, loss and a man’s riposte to agony.
Although the overall tonality of ‘Pieces of a Woman’ is gloomy and riddled with unfiltered emotions of a bereaved couple, there are two scenes in particular that come to mind as we look back – one, the confrontational sequence between a grief-stricken, stifled Martha and her task master-esque, hardened-by-life mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn). In those sheer moments of utmost truth – from either side – one cannot help but wonder: who is the sinner and who has been sinned against? Another scene that resonates is when a comfort-seeking Sean tells his lover ‘wish they had met earlier’ – as if desperate to wipe out the last eight months of his burdening life and roll back to a time that doesn’t and couldn’t have existed. While Kirby’s Martha internalises her distress and shuts out completely, LaBeouf’s Sean’s solace is angry sex and escapism: both literally and figuratively.
Through cautious storytelling, director Kornél Mundruczó’s wife Kata Wéber (screenplay) intertwines – very subtly – tragedy with class distinction (Elizabeth dislikes Sean not because he is ‘poor’, but because he doesn’t ‘know big words’ and is ‘moorish’), justifies rigidity with surviving the Holocaust and humanises the differing facets of coping mechanism: while, neither inclining towards this nor that.
It is Vanessa Kirby’s ability to emote through expressions that does the trick for ‘Pieces of a Woman’ and, of course, Shia LeBeouf’s aggressive demeanour as a young man bereft of love and a sense of belonging. Chipped black nail paint, her obsession with apples are some of the metaphors for the heartache Kirby internalises and latches on to; she is the most impactful when she wanders off… distant, aloof and withdrawn from the dysfunctionalities of her family life and all that awaits (or doesn’t). LeBeouf is a father who is steps away from embracing fatherhood and yet, he misses the boat: the actor is rightly fuming and evasive as Sean. Ellen Burstyn slides into the shoes of the control-freak mother Elizabeth and it is her complex family dynamics that unleashes the brilliant actress in her: calm and conniving, naïve and knowing.
As the title suggests, ‘Pieces of a Woman’ encapsulates the furthest ends humans can go to to nurse their broken hearts, and thus, it can turn out to be a difficult watch for some. But, what it does do, and unabashedly, is reiterate the fact that grief is, in fact, never a straight line.