PIECES OF A WOMAN (Netflix)
Vanessa Kirby’s gut wrenching raw performance as Martha in Pieces of a Woman currently streaming on Netflix about home birth will grab you. The first 24 minutes, one continuous handheld scene is almost too much to bear but it sets the tone for the entire film. The emotional grip of home birth will stay with you long after the film ends. Pieces is about a young woman’s home birth that ends in tragedy followed by a year-long journey that destroys relationships as she learned to live with her new partner - incalculable pain.
This movie is about natural home birth, death, and then residual aftermath of pain, grief, suffering and martial unraveling.
Covering all the stages of grief, the film is directed by 3-time Hungarian film and theater director Kornél Mundruczó (White God 2014) and written by his partner, Kata Wéber. They lived though these issues in their own lives. Wéber was inspired by her miscarriage to write this first as a play that ran in Poland and then the film came. It was also inspired as well by a real-life case against a midwife in Hungary. This is their first English film.
Kirby is the English actress known for her role as Princess Margaret in the Netflix period drama series The Crown (2016-2017), she won the British Academy Television Award for Best Supporting Actress. Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producers.
This movie looks at home delivery, death, then the aftermath of pain, grief, suffering and martial turmoil.
It had its world premiere on September 4, 2020 at the Venice International Film Festival. Kirby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. It was released in select theaters on December 30, 2020. It began digitally streaming on Netflix January 7, 2021.
The movie opens with this memorable scene. One of the most indelible in filmmaking. Non-stop contractions at home, to calling the mid-wife for backup, to the birth. This is as real as it gets. The midlife arrives but she isn't on it and the baby dies. Martha and Seans lives unravel from the pain in different ways.
Performances by Kirby as a successful executive giving birth have earned her many best actress nominations this awards season as with Ellen Burstyn as Martha's tough Holocaust mother and are notable. Shia LaBeouf plays husband Sean.
They are expecting their first child. Labor begins and Sean calling their midwife Barbara but she is not able to come so a replacement arrives, Eva, but Eva is not on it. Martha has a rough delivery. Eva realizes the baby’s heart rate has dropped too much. Sean asks Eva if they are safe to continue, Eva says yes. Martha soon gives birth to a baby girl but the baby soon turns blue, goes into cardiac arrest and dies.
Sean and Martha go to the coroner. Sean wants to know what happened. Martha is reluctant. Cause of death was not yet established and are tell them they were able to determine that the baby was in a low-oxygen environment and have started proceedings against Eva. Martha is told that in 60 to 70% of these cases these types of deaths do not have an explanation and thus the ache ensues but Martha and Sean who grieve in different ways. Sean leaves the coroners overcome. Martha remains and decides that she wants to donate the baby’s body to science.
Throughout, Martha appears emotionless after the loss of the child. Those around her can’t understand her form of grief. While she wants to end the gut wrenching memory, Sean wants to hang on. He pleads with her not erase the life they lost and not donate the body to science. Sean is pushed by Martha’s mother who wants a civil suit filed against the midwife for malpractice. Martha’s relationship with Sean struggles. Martha and Sean are very depressed throughout. Sean later has an affair with Martha’s cousin Suzanne. He begins using cocaine after being sober for years.
Elizabeth blames Martha for the death because she chose home birth. Elizabeth never liked Sean and offers him money to leave and not return.
Martha testifies at the trial and tells the court that Eva is not at fault and she doesn't blame her. Martha later scatters her daughter’s ashes into a river.
Principal photography began December 3, 2019 in Montreal, Canada until end of January 2020.
Director of photography Benjamin Loeb physically got in shape so that he would have the strength to carry the gimbal camera for the whole take. He says chose the gimbal for its floating quality to show the baby’s perspective and felt that using a hand-held camera would make it look too much like a documentary.