Netflix’s Pieces of a Woman: Is There Ever A Correct Way To Depict Grief On Screen?

Maisie Jane Garvin

Pieces of a Woman starring The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby, released on January 7th, was one of Netflix’s first film releases of the new year. It follows a bereaved mother’s year long journey of grief after the loss of her newborn baby. In a story that begins as a domestic drama in a small space, the unimaginable emotions surrounding the trauma of neo– natal death, transforms the plotline into a wider tale of suffering.

Presenting grief on the screen will never be an easy feat, it is one of the most subjective and personal matters of human life. Whatever your age, gender, race or religion the loss of life will always hurt, and the loss of a baby seems even more incomprehensible. Pieces of a Woman does not shy away from presenting these emotions. The film’s opening scenes show in full, the complicated homebirth of protagonist Martha, which leads to the death of her daughter only minutes after she arrives into the world.

The message to take away is that there is no right or wrong way to deal with grief

In its depiction of infant loss, Pieces of a Woman becomes particularly poignant. We rarely see on screen the death of a child in such intensity, simply because it is something that should not be addressed without understanding. In this case, it is incredible to learn that Vanessa Kirby, who since the premiere of the film has been praised for her accurate portrayal of labour, is not a mother herself.

Kirby has talked since, about her experience of shadowing a midwife, taking pre – natal classes and even watching a birth first-hand in order to prepare for the role. Kirby’s determination to have such an understanding of birth and pregnancy perhaps stems from the fact the film is based on the writer and producer’s own experiences. Kata Weber and Kornel Mundruczo, the Hungarian filmmakers, have lived through the very grief presented to us in Pieces of a Woman. In creating the film, the couple wanted it to be a connection to a community of people who had felt a loss as deeply as theirs.

Each character in the movie copes with their loss in a different way, something which makes the film so truthful. It seems the message to take away is that there is no right or wrong way to deal with grief. The family are not healed in a short space of time, as is more often than not falsely presented on our screens. We see the father, played by Shia LaBeouf, turn to drink and drugs to comfort his hurt, whereas the mother retreats into herself. It is heart-breaking to watch a fractious family environment begin to prevail, which highlights the intensity of emotions felt when you lose somebody you love. The characters are angry with each other, resentful, bitter and consumed by their grief. Pieces of a Woman should be praised for this alone, in that it hides nothing.

Heartbreakingly the one detail she can remember is her baby smelling like apples

Despite this, throughout the film the recurrence of an apple seems to present a glimmer of hope. Martha is seen numerous times throughout the movie eating the fruit and we even see her attempting to grow an apple herself from the seeds. Although we learn towards the end of the film that this is in part due to the fleeting moments spent with her daughter -heartbreakingly the one detail she can remember is her baby smelling like apples – there seems to be more significance in its symbolism. In the ending moments of the film, the camera focuses on a huge apple tree swaying in the wind. The apple tree is representative of the notion that there is always room for growth, new beginnings and the opportunity to pick up your broken pieces even after suffering..

There aren’t many times where the vulnerability of life is reflected back at us, but through its depiction of grief Pieces of a Woman does exactly this.

Maisie Jane Garvin

Featured Image courtesy of Kristina Tripkovic  via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article video courtesy of Netflix via YouTube.

In article image courtesy of vanessa__kirby via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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