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Pieces of a Woman review: 'Vanessa Kirby is the backbone of the film, delivering a remarkable physical performance with rare emotional intensity'




Indie film reviewer and 16-year-old Bishop's Stortford College student Charlie Hughes says Vanessa Kirby could be in Oscars contention for her performance in new Netflix drama Pieces of a Woman...

Five minutes into the new Netflix drama Pieces of a Woman, there is an unbroken, 24-minute take of a woman giving birth and her baby's neonatal death.

It is a staggeringly powerful opening – the audience hardly knows this woman, yet lives through her and her partner's experience as the scene unfolds in real time.

Shia LaBeouf as Sean and Vanessa Kirby as Martha in Pieces of a Woman. Picture: PA Photo/Netflix/Benjamin Loeb
Shia LaBeouf as Sean and Vanessa Kirby as Martha in Pieces of a Woman. Picture: PA Photo/Netflix/Benjamin Loeb

The woman is Martha (Vanessa Kirby), whose life is torn apart by the tragedy. Her grief isolates her from her family and her relationship with partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) deteriorates.

The press, the public and Martha's assertive mother (a terrific Ellen Burstyn) place the blame on the midwife, a last-minute replacement whose role in the death remains ambiguous.

In truth, the rest of the drama doesn't quite live up to the opening. Unconvincing forays into melodrama and some overwrought apple-seed symbolism somewhat undermine its emotional realism. Yet it remains engrossing because the two lead performances keep the audience invested.

Kirby, who recently impressed with her role in Mission Impossible: Fallout, is the backbone of the film, delivering a remarkable physical performance with rare emotional intensity. Having won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at last year's Venice Film Festival, she will no doubt be a talking point among Oscar voters come April.

Credit must also be given to LaBeouf, who has come a long way since his days in Michael Bay's Transformers series. Just like in his recent performances in Honey Boy and The Peanut Butter Falcon, he shows his new-found maturity and unique talent.

This is a more personal film from writer-director couple Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber, who previously helmed the allegorical White God (about a mysterious canine uprising). Based on their own experiences, the intimate narrative speaks frankly about a subject that too few films have explored.

Pieces of a Woman may never quite fit together, but it is a refreshingly brave drama sporting superb performances.

Star rating: ****



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