This film starts off with an exceptional 30 minutes prelude that subjects its audience to witness a painful home birth that ends in tragedy. I personally found this hard to watch even though it was not graphic or bloody. The uneasiness stems from the anticipation that something is going to go wrong here makes it an agonising 30 minutes. The title of the film then flashes on the screen after this long introduction, setting the tone for the rest of the movie.
I had known before hand that this film deal with the tragedy of loss and I have to confess I had put off watching this for weeks as I wasn’t too keen to watch something with such a depressing theme. Nevertheless the film had raved reviews and it stars the splendid Vanessa Kirby and Shia LeBeouf. Vanessa has the more difficult role to play here as the central character who hides her emotions through a deceiving calm front. She caught my attention recently with her superb performances in the first two seasons of TV series The Crown. She has played the colourful role of Princess Margaret. Here she plays Martha, an American living in Boston with her husband Sean, played by Shia LeBeouf. I was expecting a tour de force performance from Vanessa as a woman suffering from an unimaginable loss but she played her character a little low key despite the implication of its more explicit title. I would say that she had a wider and more dynamic range of emotions in The Crown than she had here. Nevertheless it was still a stellar performance plus she had nary a hint of a British accent passing off convincingly as an American. Shia LeBeouf has made a name of himself as having the “bad boy” image and here he is uncharacteristically portraying someone more matured for a change.
Apart from the performances, the film’s character study of how a woman copes and comes to terms with her personal loss is interestingly told over a span of about a year. There is even a little bit of court room drama thrown in and an ending that provides some form of relief. For me, I cannot say that I enjoyed this movie because of its subject matter. Somebody told me that I had a bigger capacity to absorb hard and sad storylines. I guess in a way, I do, but in the case of Pieces of a Woman, there was little for me to cheer about so it came across to me as just simply depressing.
Pieces of a Woman is directed by a male Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo who apparently has not directed an English speaking movie before. I cannot help wondering how different the tone and feel of the movie might have been had it been directed by a woman instead. I know that was a pretty sexist remark I just made there, but just food for thought.