The Ageless Ellen Burstyn in Kornel Mundruczo’s Pieces of a Woman!

Ellen Burstyn

Hold on, did I miss something!. That’s how felt almost throughout a very confused 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. Originally written and directed for the stage in 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 very good here, particularly in a thirty minute home birth sequence that may have went wrong because of the incompetence of a midwife (nicely played by Molly Parker), which is filmed in a single take. Bravo! The problems begin after the baby’s death and reside mainly 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 basically a mouthpiece, given the awful script she has to 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.

It’s Burstyn’s character, not Kirby’s, who wants to prosecute the midwife. And here things really get crazy. It seems that Kirby’s character is Jewish, although she gives off no particular Jewish vibe, and Burstyn wants the case to go forward so she, and her family can get some payback for what she suffered in the Holocaust! This leads to Burstyn’s big Oscar speech (widely forecast) where she tells Kirby, but in reality 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 pandering of the lowest order and makes a mockery of its subject matter. But again, we have the 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.

“Pieces of a Woman” is now available for streaming on Netflix.

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