Film Reviews

“Bereft of Substance and Soul” – Film Review: Pieces of a Woman

Alex Watkin

Director Kornél Mundruczó’s and writer Kata Wéber’s Pieces of a Woman explores the erosion of a relationship after a homebirth miscarriage. The film begins well, with a visceral birth sequence, but once the interpersonal drama begins the lacklustre script reveals itself. It wades through melodramatic ambiguity with little elegance, making it difficult to care about the characters or their story.

Pieces of a Woman creates a visual experience of tension through an intimate setting

When the film opens there is a palpable sense of energy. It immediately feels like a tactile piece of unadulterated contemporary realism. The film’s momentum only builds with the birth sequence that follows. It is presented as a single shot and reminded me of Nolan’s Dunkirk and Mendes’ 1917. The key difference is Pieces of a Woman creates a visual experience of tension through an intimate setting. Mundruczó and Wéber manage to reach peaks of emotion within the first act other suspense thrillers only aspire to in their third act.

This is not to say the first act isn’t flawed. Issues that persist through the whole film are still present from the beginning, they just don’t break it like they do the rest of the film. The problems become clear after the miscarriage transpires. The film transitions towards a mind-numbing drama, which shoddily attempts a nuanced study on grief. It proclaims to be arthouse, but in actuality is bereft of substance and soul.

The drama is melodramatic, undisciplined and feels like a complete construction. The dialogue appears to have been written by a teenager who thinks it’s ostensibly cool to swear in every other sentence. Nothing ever feels natural and at times the characters are grating to listen to. The pretentious nudity only confirms that the film is desperate to assert itself as ‘real’, when in fact it is juvenile and immature.

Beyond this, somethings feels wrong with the characters, perhaps they are too generic? Their apartment looks like an Ikea showroom, their jobs are two-dimensional and we don’t get a particular good idea of why they want a child beyond the obvious. The film never gave me a reason to care about them beyond the miscarriage. Therefore, whether they are generic or not, I really question why we’re telling this story with these characters.

The context is too obviously an afterthought

My guess is Mundruczó and Wéber wanted to keep the film as inclusive as possible. But they try to achieve this in the wrong way. The film would have been more successful if it achieved universality through its themes rather than wishy-washy characters. The context is too obviously an afterthought, but this is no surprise when learning the original idea originates from Wéber’s own experience with a miscarriage. Clearly the context of the final film was not intertwined with the original idea.

Yet, does the selection of a Boston couple, to be the vessel for this miscarriage story, have to feel as arbitrary as it does? There is the impression of well-defined characters; they have their individual traits and I’m sure Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf could answer Stanislavsky’s Actors 7 questions, but ultimately their specificities feel completely meaningless. The characters could be interchanged for cardboard cut-outs with little impact on the story; their specificities don’t integrate into the actual substance of the film in any considerable way.

Therefore, it becomes hard to praise the actors for their performances. Ultimately, they just come off as shallow constructs; there is never the illusion of real people spontaneously captured. This is more the fault of the disposable writing than their acting; on the surface their performances are impressive. Nevertheless, if you try to become emotionally invested the experience is shallow.

A lazy attempt to try and find some structure within a messy script

Mundruczó and Wéber try to recover the film’s shoddy drama by adding in the obligatory external conflict of a courtroom lawsuit. The only thing this adds, beyond over simplified platitudes, is it recontextualises the birth sequence. The single shot now functions as unedited truth, which comes under scrutiny in the courtroom. This is nice, but ultimately the film only flirts with the courtroom drama. Overall its addition is contrived and a lazy attempt to try and find some structure within a messy script.

Pieces of a Woman is at times a painful experience and not in a way, I believe, Mundruczó and Wéber intended. The ending slightly recovers the overall experience; it makes a recurring motif of apples slightly less onerous and prevents the lifeless second and third act persisting in the viewers memory. However, the ending is almost its own entity, so the rest of the film remains empty and uninteresting.

2 stars

Alex Watkin

Featured image courtesy of Ricardo Tomé via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article images courtesy of @vanessa__kirby and @natellakrapivina via Instagram.

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