TL;DR

  • Impressive and captivating, but brutal and painful opening
  • Beautiful cinematography supported by a strong script
  • Incredible performances, particularly by Vanessa Kirby
  • A little long at times since the rest of the film doesn’t match up to the start
  • A bleak but powerful depiction of grief

Openings are important – sometimes vital. They need to catch a viewer’s attention and hold them in willing suspension of disbelief. This doesn’t happen all the time so when a film does have a captivating opening, it’s worth a mention. Bond films are famous for their openings, like animated films such as The Lion King and Up. And who could forget the glorious tension and fear at the start of Inglourious Basterds? We can now add Pieces of a Woman to that line-up.

“Brutal, unflinching, and terrifyingly intimate”

In fact, you only step back to realise what a powerful opening it is once the title appears half an hour into the film. After introducing Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and her partner Sean (Shia LeBeouf), Martha has a home birth with a replacement midwife. Brutal, unflinching, and terrifyingly intimate, it holds you in a painful one-shot until the title and leaves you breathless. The camera’s gentle shakes and long-take compliment the sublime performances of both Vanessa Kirby and Shia LeBeouf. We’re used to two-minute birth scenes with an actress screaming half-heartedly. This scene is different; it holds no punches.

And rightly so, since the rest of the film is a direct response to what happens here. Still no spoilers, although a glimpse at the trailer and you can guess. We’re not even given all the details, instead incrementally shown bits of information as we go. It’s a bold premise and gives the film an interesting tone, almost a similar vein to the tone of European New Wave and Neorealism films. Yet after the climax at the start, the rest almost seems to dwindle and drag in comparison. This makes the film feel long at times, but excellent speeches and characterization keep the film focused. The cinematography and editing are particularly worth noting; with plenty of metaphors to enjoy, the bleak way of shooting the landscapes and long-takes add to the film’s emotion and atmosphere.

“Kirby’s astonishing performance”

But the main heroes in this piece are Vanessa Kirby and Shia LeBeouf. Although it’s disappointing his character seems to run out of fuel, LeBeouf is the polar opposite to how I’m used to seeing him in Transformers. Now rocking a hobo-esque King Leonidas beard, he himself has “transformed” (pun fully intended). Sean wears his grief on his sleeve, regressing into his former self-destructive state. LeBeouf doesn’t have a great deal of chemistry with Kirby, but that juxtaposition works to the film’s advantage. Whereas his grief pours out, Martha reigns it in. It’s as if she is so shocked she can’t bring herself to release any emotion lest a waterfall of pain pours out. Kirby’s astonishing performance doesn’t end after the birth scene but continues throughout. The looks she gives and the smallest muscle movement in her face add so much that words could never say.

“Oscar Buzz”

Due to the pandemic, films released on Netflix will have a particular advantage in awards season this year. But even without that advantage, Pieces of a Woman has Oscar-buzz about it. A well-shot film with a strong script, but it’s Vanessa Kirby who steals the show. Every piece of that woman is on full display and adds up to a powerful depiction of grief worth watching.

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