Hungary Magazine

CineClub: Pieces of a Woman (2020), by Kornél Mundruczó


Revisiting old classics, discovering hidden gems and exploring the contemporary movie scene: every month, Kafkadesk’s CineClub brings you new insights and expert film reviews of the greatest treasures of Central European cinema. This week: Pieces of a Woman (2020), by Kornél Mundruczó.

The skyrocketing rise of Netflix not only kick-started a new era in the international film industry, but served as a stepping stone for the up-and-coming generation of directors and scriptwriters to reach some much-demanded Hollywood stars. Such an opportunity paved the way for Kornél Mundruczó, an ambitious and award-winning Hungarian filmmaker, to team up with the brilliant Martin Scorsese and direct the dramatic Pieces of a Woman, his first English-language film released last year.

The American-Canadian-Hungarian co-production, fueled by depressive and heavy emotions, tells a deep personal tragedy through the long-debated subject of home birth, and how a fruitful and happy relationship can go dramatically wrong after the sudden death of a newborn. To authentically illustrate this heart-breaking story, the director tailored the protagonist costumes to Shia LaBeouf (Sean), Vanessa Kirby (Martha) and Ellen Burstyn (Elizabeth).

To realistically present the lethargic inner and physical suffering of the characters, Mundruczó operates with the “one-shot” technique by limiting the obvious cuts during the film. This craft is analogous to Sam Mendes’ 1917 and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman movies, where the camera simply follows the characters through the story. In the opening scene of Pieces of a Woman, the viewer can experience the emotionally-charged pain of childbirth in a 21-minute-long single shot, developed with perfect cinematic rhythm and tension.

Pieces of a Woman: A derailed relationship 

The cons to give birth without medical intervention and hospital staff often serve as the core of countless public debates surrounding the controversial topic. That is not the focal point of the movie, however, which instead focuses on the torment of a relationship after the tragic death of an infant. Even though the movie’s subplot also follows a lawsuit against the midwife allegedly responsible for the baby’s death, Pieces of a Woman mainly concentrates on the emotional breakdown of the main characters, first and foremost Martha, but also her husband Sean and her mother Elizabeth. 

The director portrays a woman whose entire existence has been shattered by the traumatic experience, lost in her emotional pain which further poisons her professional, social and sexual life.

Vanessa Kirby’s mastery performance makes this irresolvable pain palpable throughout the entire film, penetrating to the very heart of the soul. There are enormous pressures in all human relationships, situations of crises and difficulties to solve, but Pieces of a Woman sketches an unexpectedly dramatic situation from which there appears to be no way back, and no way forward.

The duality of Kirby’s character is precisely built up. Soon after the tragedy of her childbirth she tries to appear perfectly fine in her public life, repressing and silencing all her emotions in front of her colleagues, but painfully suffers in her private life depicted through her decaying relationship with her husband and mother. 

Hollywood clichés

The conflict and quarrel scenes are nicely paced in a soul-touching way. Director Kornél Mundruczó did a commendable job in elaborating the characters and bringing some dynamism and tension in the movie, but its conventional Hollywood-style solutions remain the film’s weakest spot. The idea, for instance, to present the passing of time through the construction of a bridge slowly stretching its arms across the river is interesting from a symbolic and cinematic point of view, but showcasing the dates on the screen at the same time makes the intention slightly too obvious, even awkward.

The catharsis reached at the end of the film as the trial comes to a close is also trite and appears unrelated to the rest of the story-line, abruptly brushed away with a few well-shed tears. The idyllically-shot closing scene, where a little girl picks an apple from a tree before being called to dinner by her mother, seems like an attempt to escape from coming up a creative end to this heart-breaking story. But despite some of its defects and shortcomings, Pieces of a Woman is definitely a movie that can shock you with its simple and realistic scenes, leaving your head reeling.

Main photo credit:

By Bence Janek

Bence is a Budapest-born political science M.A graduate, who studied in the United States and Spain. He previously worked for a government relations firm in Washington D.C., and later joined Ernst & Young Budapest. Bence is a freelance writer with expertise in the field of Hungarian and international business sectors, media, films and communication. Check out all his latest movie reviews right here!

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.

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