“The Pieces of a Woman,” starring Vanessa Kirby and Shia Labeouf, follows a young couple, Martha and Sean, as they cope with the death of their newborn when a homebirth goes wrong. The film, directed by Kornél Mundruczó, focuses on Martha’s mental, physical, and emotional journey to recovery.
The film begins in the couple’s home, closely following Martha’s labor as contractions grow closer and closer together. After her water breaks, Sean, who has been monitoring the contractions, calls the midwife, only to find she is busy with another delivery.
Instead, Suzanne, a different midwife, arrives to take her place and deliver the baby. The film captures the exhilarating, intense moments as Martha’s contractions become more intense, and experienced Suzanne offers direction and support.
In excruciating pain, Martha moves to the bathtub, where she and Sean share an intimate moment. The director’s approach is candid, allowing the authenticity of a loving relationship to lead the scene. The couple, as a unit, goes through each step of the labor. The setting is fitting, emitting a humble and homey feeling, a representation of the pair themselves.
Labeouf takes the role to another level, adding tenderness and compassion to the character’s rough exterior. Although panicked and adrenaline-filled, Sean stands by Martha and actively participates in whichever way he can.
The film, however, turns wary quickly, when Suzanne’s panic rings through, she warns the couple the baby is in distress. As Suzanne runs out of the room to assess the next medical procedural, Sean follows frantically. Hesitantly the midwife reassures him everything is normal but orders Sean to call an ambulance.
The scene turns into an array of emotions. For a moment, uncertainty and tension fill the room, and then the scene takes a turn, and relief takes over, and we can finally breathe again. Before we can truly settle into the calm serenity, the ambulance arrives, ending the scene with a strong sense of devastation and unsettlement.
The aftermath is physical and emotional for Martha. We see the heartbreaking reality of a recovering body after labor. We see Martha’s body readjusts itself out of being a mother and back to being a woman. The director portrays this rawly, exposing the draining reality of healing after losing a child. She includes a moving moment when Martha returns from the grocery store with frozen peas to put on her breasts to help with the soreness as she goes through lactation.
On the other hand, Sean is fighting his own internal battle. As a recovered addict who is six years clean, distraught and overwhelmed, he grows tired of Martha’s lack of emotion and cold presence. The couple begins to fall apart as intimacy fades away, and communication becomes rare. Eventually, they learn to cope with pain without each other and look toward others to fill the void.
While this goes on, a legal battle is taking place against Suzanne. Martha’s mother, Elizabeth, an overbearing and controlling figure in her life, insists on pressing charges. Having no interest in doing so, her relationship with her mother grows further apart, until completely disconnecting.
Throughout the film, Martha falls further and further away from herself and others around her. Her grief is not always obvious, and her steps toward recovery don’t always make sense.
Kirby’s performance through each of Marth’s stages is powerful and genuine. She plays a vulnerable role while at the same time, portraying the character’s aggression through moments of denial and disconnection. It takes Martha time to face the challenge head-on, but when she does, she finally finds her peace. Only then does Martha heal from the absence and move forward.