The pregnant Martha (a
breathlessly bleak Vanessa Kirby) is about to give birth at home, supported by
her jokey, recovering partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf). The scheduled
midwife can’t make it. Martha’s
distrust of the replacement (Molly Parker) strikes the first of many stressful
notes. She struggles around the apartment – on a ball, in the bath, across the
bed – trouser-less after her waters break. Kirby brings an uncomfortable veracity: writhing and burping and screaming with intense pain, repeating ‘It’s awful, it’s awful…’
Vanessa Kirby is breathlessly bleak as Martha. Photo: Netflix
Benjamin Loeb’s camerawork resembles
the building, one-shot anxiety of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love
and even the dark headiness of Gaspar Noé’s Climax, only without an overwrought soundtrack (Mundruzó clearly prefers natural, diegetic noise). Loeb allows these visuals and fraught
performances to breathe. It all
leads to a horrific conclusion, much publicised. If it were a short film and
simply ended there, the result would’ve been more powerful.
the next chapter unfolds with quiet and disappointing emptiness, painted as an
exercise in patience. It’s dispiriting when a film doesn’t bloom beyond its first act, beginning with immersive promise and finishing in the realisation that, really, there isn’t much profundity after all.
Martha rarely expresses herself, Kirby maintaining a
dead-cold expression which a lesser actor could’ve made boring. Despite
attentive demands from Sean, she rarely breaks. Eventually, friends and relatives enter the fray – distracting, strangely, from the couple’s central story. The camera rotates close around the characters,
as if you were there, but screenwriter Kata Wéber doesn’t isolate Martha and Sean enough.
lawyer (Succession’s Sarah Snook), a car dealer (Good Time’s Benny
Safdie) and a work colleague (Jimmie Fails, in a role that wastes his
talents) – standing in as underdrawn and underwhelming filler. Even the potential
narrative save of a court case is fumbled, left till the closing
20 minutes in a lukewarm, melodramatic finish.
Ellen Burstyn (Lucy in the Sky, The Exorcist) trembles with pathos. Photo: Netflix
seasoned Ellen Burstyn, playing Martha’s mother Elizabeth, trembles with pathos
and authority but her relevance stretches thin. When Elizabeth suddenly drops
into a monologue about her own mother, a Holocaust survivor, it’s little more
than a shoehorned tragedy: an awkward attempt to elevate the film to a depth it
of a Woman works best
between Martha and Sean, their scenes cooking the grief the story hinges
on. It burdens the lines on their faces. Even smiling is an emotional front. But even
these affecting moments are stained by the recent allegations against Shia LaBeouf, an
actor already littered with a troubling history of addiction and abuse (covered
in Honey Boy, a sort of filmic apology). Although this doesn’t take away
from the humanity in his performance, a few aggressive scenes are tough to sit through given the reality.
But it’s worth watching purely for Kirby who,
whatever the faults of the story, creates an unforgettable shadow of loss.
Pieces of a Woman is available on Netflix from Thursday 7 December
|What||Pieces of a Woman, Netflix review|
07 Jan 21 – 07 Jan 22, ON NETFLIX
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