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#TIFF20 Review: Pieces of a Woman (Gala Presentations)

September 17, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The English-language debut of Hungarian director Kornél Mundruzcó, Pieces of a Woman is a very emotional drama that is built around a striking performance by Vanessa Kirby as a woman forging her own path through grief, which just won her the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Martha (Kirby) lives in Boston with her construction worker partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf), and they are expecting their first child together. But when a tragedy strikes, the young couple are left reeling, and Martha must deal with the expectations of both Sean and her mother (Ellen Burstyn) around how she is supposed to recover from the devastation.

The film opens with its most stunning sequence; an unbroken, single-take birthing scene that goes on for over twenty minutes, following along in excruciating detail as Martha goes into a complicated labour. It’s one of the most gripping, anxiety-inducing sequences of the year, and it’s masterfully pulled off by the cast and crew, in an incredible testament to Mundruzcó’s direction, cinematographer Benjamin Loeb’s intimate camerawork, and the performances of the two leads. Throughout this sequence alone, Kirby delivers some of the best screen acting we will see this year, making her Venice win understandable.

From here, the film moves forward episodically, as Kata Wéber’s perceptive screenplay details the fallout from an unthinkable tragedy that befalls the expectant parents. I did find that this narrative structure leaves a little too much out at times, with a lot of gaps and jumps ahead, and I was left wanting a bit more in terms of the story. But Pieces of a Woman is kept grounded by its exceptional performances, and in its best scenes, the film reaches powerful emotional truths.

For his part, LaBeouf delivers an impressively naturalistic turn, and Burstyn is given one standout scene partway through the film. It’s a drama that is stripped bare and is emotionally exhausting to watch, but also greatly rewarding thanks to the brilliance of its performances.

Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Public Screenings:

Saturday, September 12th – 12:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Wednesday, September 16th – 6:00 PM at Bell Digital Cinema (Online for 24 Hours)

Wednesday, September 16th – 9:00 PM at Visa Skyline Drive-In at CityView

Friday, September 18th – 9:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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