By Emily Murray
In cinema birth is often depicted to be a beautiful thing, which in many ways it is, bringing new life into the world. What is often not shown is the sheer pain, terror and blood involved, something new drama Pieces Of A Woman is very much unafraid to shy away from.
Starring Vanessa Kirby as a young woman navigating grief after a home birth ends in tragedy, you are quickly thrown into throes of despair and emotion with an astonishingly tough to watch opening act.
The 24-minute-long one-shot birth scene is rare for cinema, in regards to both its brutally raw nature and immersiveness.We feel every grunt, cry, howl, retch and belch Kirby’s Martha lets out as she keels over with each contraction, making the scene resemble more like a body horror with every passing minute. The camera takes you right into the violence of the moment, ensuring it is utterly captivating despite being also at times unwatchable due to the intensity of it all. Tension rises and rises as midwife Eve (Molly Parker) grows increasingly anxious about the baby’s health. When silence suddenly interrupts the crying it is heartbreaking, and we are left shaken when the film then cuts to the title card.However, this is also something which is in a way welcomed in relief knowing the traumatic scene is now over.
Unfortunately the movie does lose momentum from this point onwards, and fails to match the tone set by the first 30 minutes. Of course it was a hard act to follow, however the ensuing events play out like a middling by the numbers drama which is overly long and at times just dull.
We now follow Martha as she faces the emotional fallout of the tragedy, feeling estranged from her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and facing a mother (Ellen Burstyn) who doesn’t understand why her daughter isn’t outwardly grieving. In the wake of abuse allegations made by several women, it is uncomfortable watching LaBeouf play the erratic Sean who turns to drugs, alcohol and more as a way to escape his agony.
Whereas Martha is numb, Burstyn’s Elizabeth is impassioned, contrasting neatly with Kirby’s quiet and still performance. Although Burstyn is for the most part great as the fierce mother, at times her long and passionate speeches are rather excessive – you can tell a bit too much she is really going for that Oscar.
Talking of Oscars… whilst the rest of the movie fails to match the outstanding first act, the one thing that never falters is Kirby’s phenomenal performance which is a tour de force.
After screaming and crying her way through the birth scene, Martha is now a shell of her former self, with Kirby not even having to utter a word to communicate the loss she feels.
Despite its many flaws, Pieces Of A Woman is worth watching for the opening act and Kirby’s performance alone, one which will surely earn her many nominations and a few wins too in the upcoming awards season.
Pieces of a Woman is out on Netflix now!