Pieces of a Woman (2021) Film Review

Ellen Burnstein
There is a home birth sequence that may have gone wrong because of the incompetence of a midwife, nicely played by Molly Parker. This sequence is filmed in a single twenty-two-minute single-take!

Hold on, did I miss something involving the ageless Ellen Burstyn? That’s how I felt throughout a very confusing movie called “Pieces of a Woman starring Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf. Centered on the tragic loss of a newborn baby, the film is inspired by real events in the life of the film’s writer Kata Weber and her partner, the film’s director Kornel Mundruczo. The film is based on a play that was written in Mundruczo’s native Hungary. The project was picked up by an American producer when it did not get support from the Hungarian National Film Fund.

Make no mistake about it, both Kirby and LaBeouf are exceptionally good here. In a home birth sequence that may have gone wrong because of the incompetence of a midwife, nicely played by Molly Parker. This sequence is filmed in a single twenty-two- minute single-take. Bravo!

The problems begin after the baby’s death and reside in the character of Kirby’s mother, played by Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn’s character is problematic in many ways and there is no way she could have been successful in fleshing out what is a mouthpiece, given the awful script she must work with. But the real problem lies in the math.

How can an actress who is pushing ninety be the mother of an actress in her say, her late twenties or early thirties? It does not appear that she is adopted. You might say that this shouldn’t matter but it does. We all know Ellen Burstyn. She has been around forever. Well, she had a late start when, pushing forty, she broke through with an indelible performance playing a much more realistic mother, Cybill Shepherd’s, in “The Last Picture Show” in 1971. In “Pieces of a Woman” was she supposed to be Kirby’s grandmother? I don’t think so.

Vanessa Kirby in "Pieces of a Woman"

It’s Burstyn’s character, not Kirby’s, who wants to prosecute the midwife. And here things really get crazy. Kirby’s character is Jewish, although she gives off no Jewish vibe. Burstyn wants the case to go forward so she, and her family, can get some payback for what she suffered in the Holocaust! I am not kidding.

This leads to Burstyn’s big Oscar speech (not successful) where she tells Kirby, but really the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that her mother gave birth to her, and had to hide her, in an outhouse, in a Polish ghetto, while the trains were leaving for the camps in 1944. This is obviously a pandering of the lowest order and makes a mockery of its subject matter

But again, we have math. I could be wrong, but I got the impression that the movie was set in the present day. That would make Burstyn’s character seventy-six, which would have meant that she gave birth at, say, forty-six. Not impossible, but implausible, especially given that this movie is all about birth. and that Burstyn’s character never misses a beat when it comes to espousing her life of suffering. As I said, it’s all very confusing.

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