Good performances can go a long way in elevating films. Pieces Of A Woman – Netflix’s latest original project – is a devastating story that follows a woman in the year after a tragic home birth. It’s a film that is lifted to new heights thanks to its lead performance. Whilst it does suffer from some pacing issues and is perhaps a little too depressing at times, it has a lot of undeniable positives.
At the heart of things we have Martha (Vanessa Kirby), a soon-to-be new mother, and her partner Sean (Shia LeBeouf). On the cusp of starting their very own little family, things seemingly couldn’t be more perfect. However, tragedy strikes and that picture is shattered, leaving Martha to figure out how to live alongside her grief.
Pieces Of A Woman is Vanessa Kirby’s film
There is no doubt about it. There are a lot of layers to her performance, and I dare say you would see more and more with a few rewatches, although that might be easier said than done. For me, the biggest thing was seeing Martha trying to slot back into a world that had kept spinning when hers had collapsed around her. Kirby captured this beautifully, providing Martha with an anger and frustration that perfectly summed up her feelings towards her loss and grief.
However, I think she also did a fantastic job of muting the way Martha was feeling whenever she was around her family. Everyone seemed to have their own ideas about what she should be doing and how she should be doing it. There was a lot of external interference that prevented her from doing her own thing, and that was something I felt was a nice touch. People can be well-intentioned with their advice and support, but sometimes I think you just need to work through some things by yourself at your own pace. How smothered Martha felt at times, especially around her mother, was very apparent.
On the point of family, what I thought was interesting was everyone else’s attitudes towards the loss. Other key figures in the film all seemed to be hell-bent on finding someone to blame for the death of Martha’s baby; that there had to be someone at fault. Whilst I think this can be a natural step for some who have suffered any kind of bereavement, especially an untimely one, I felt like it was a nice way of addressing the taboo surrounding the subject as well. The way Pieces Of A Woman dealt with it wasn’t a bid to make it seem revolutionary because it was covering such a topic, but more a statement that this is how many people currently view such events, and that such a response makes no sense when you get the chance to view it from the outside.
Technical feats enhanced the scenery
I think it would be fair to say that this a film with a lot of technical brilliance. Anyone who has seen Pieces Of A Woman will be well aware of that huge tracking shot that made up most of the opening thirty minutes. It was perfectly choreographed, with sweeping camera movements that provided a truly intimate experience of what was unfolding on screen. This up-close and personal approach allowed the whole scene to wash over you, which made the climax of this particular part all the more devastating.
There was also an immense amount of symmetry present in much of the cinematography throughout the rest of the film. I thought it was fascinating that so many of the shots appeared to be so carefully planned when what was going on centred largely around chaos and destruction. For me, it reinforced the idea I spoke about earlier on that the world around us carries on even when ours stops dead in its tracks.
A little too bleak for its own good
For what outstanding features it did have, Pieces Of A Woman did suffer some wicked pacing issues in my eyes. I think this happened as a result of two things. As I have just mentioned, the film featured a massive tracking shot right at the start, and this set a precedent going forward. Everything moved in a very deliberately slow manner, allowing you to take in all of the scenery. The only problem with this as the film reached its twilight stages was my attention began to wane significantly because there was so little action, and so much misery.
This brings me nicely onto my second point, which is that the film is just such a depressing watch it’s a task to stick with it. As great as performances might be, and as stunning as the film might be in places, Pieces Of A Woman is so bleak and doesn’t offer much at all in terms of light. As a result, it felt desperately overlong and by the end of it, I felt like I had just endured a marathon of suffering.
It has its strengths, but pacing is where this film ultimately falls down
As a study of maternal grief and coping with loss, Pieces Of A Woman makes some remarkable moves. Vanessa Kirby is phenomenal as Martha, and truly deserves every bit of praise she’s getting for her performance in a film that handles a very difficult subject in what I felt was a very tasteful manner. It’s just a shame that it is so slow and so melancholy for the duration of its runtime as that is the only place where it fell down for me, albeit in quite a significant fashion.