Pieces of a Woman – Is There an Afterlife?

EXCEPTIONAL/REVIEW
by Victoria Krasnopevtseva
27.03.2021
Cornel Mundrutso, the director, slowly, painfully and naturally answers "yes". His film Pieces of a Woman (2020) is a new successful project from Netflix, which received several awards and a nomination for Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It is a tragedy of daily life, a story of a woman who loses everything to reassemble herself by pieces.
Who is this woman? It's Martha (Vanessa Kirby).
A happy wife, a future mother, she, together with her husband (Shia LaBeouf), equips the nursery, admires the results of ultrasound — in other words, prepares for giving birth. For the «typical» family life there is bickering between a husband and a mother-in-law, buying a car, ridiculous jokes about broccoli (okay, maybe not so typical, cute).
Suddenly the ordinary is cut off. First of all, for the viewer. He or she learns that the birth will be at home and the viewer will have to witness it — the director deprives him or her of a comfortable chair of the observer. There is almost half an hour naturalistic scene, without soundtrack — only painful groans, cries of «I am in pain, I feel sick.» Slowly creeping and peeping camera, which literally bites into characters' faces, plays in close-ups, not allowing the viewer to shyly look away. The palette is dominated by an unpleasant yellow. The viewer feels uncomfortable, the picture emotionally "breaks" him or her. However, this is fair. In a couple of minutes, the newborn baby will die, and the lives of four people will already be broken: the baby itself, the (already) criminalized midwife and (no longer) newly-made parents.

Love, sex and even a car — everything becomes pieces of the past, of a family unfulfilled idyll. Marta quits her job, sharply reacts to mentioning a child or meeting other children on the street, stops communicating with people. Every sign of social, professional, or internal life disappears. Even the house flowers fade. Everything collapses, and Martha has to rebuild it. By herself.

And she can handle it. Because, among other things, the semantic element is also destroyed. It would seem that the film is sustained following fairly traditional values. More than anything, a woman is waiting for the birth of a child, and its death is her death. But this is just the embodiment of universal human values. Traditional ones are in crisis. In contrast to them a man turns out to be weaker than a woman: he is poorer than the heroine's mother, dumber than his wife (he admits this himself), more prone to instincts (in the film, situations are parallel when both Martha and her husband seek solace in other people, but she stops herself, and he begins to systematically cheat on her), he is more pathetic (the mistress leaves him, the mother-in-law
buys his departure).

The main character also enters into a confrontation with her mother. Martha defends her independence by breaking with the traditional view of public opinion. The outside is alien to Martha, it constantly betrays her: the husband leaves, the mother behaves very selfishly, and even a formal, hired "protector" — a lawyer — sleeps with the character's husband.
Martha is left alone with herself. And her inner power is enough for a start to survive the impossible. She comes to court and forgives the midwife, finds salvation inside, not in the external penitentiary system, not in punishing another person, not in what her mother demands. Pieces of a woman are fortitude, love, and mercy. We hear a quiet, manifest cry for inner feminine strength. For human strength.
And this exclamation revives everything around. With forgiveness, the destructive vector is replaced by the creative one. To illustrate, the director uses the classic (naive) metaphor of the changing seasons: with the onset of winter everything finally dies (from the relationship with the husband to the dried flowers in the kitchen), and spring brings everything back to life: Marta scatters the ashes, starts a new family and even flowers on the windowsill grow again.
The director is interested in the theme of nature: there are naturalistic childbirth, the "apple" smell of a baby and a large apple tree with ripe fruits as a symbol of a grown daughter, (repeatedly) mentioned flowers as signals of the state of mind, mainly the natural sounds of the picture — silence, conversations, groans during the childbirth, tears during the loss, rapid breathing on the trial. As if the director is trying to say: "look, this is not a movie, this is our life!" And life has its laws: spring replaces winter, flowers bloom sooner or later, and Marta becomes happy, which means that everything will eventually get better.
 
Pieces of a Woman – Is There an Afterlife?
EXCEPTIONAL/REVIEW
by Victoria Krasnopevtseva
27.03.2021
Cornel Mundrutso, the director, slowly, painfully and naturally answers "yes". His film Pieces of a Woman (2020) is a new successful project from Netflix, which received several awards and a nomination for Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It is a tragedy of daily life, a story of a woman who loses everything to reassemble herself by pieces.
Who is this woman? It's Martha (Vanessa Kirby). A happy wife, a future mother, she, together with her husband (Shia LaBeouf), equips the nursery, admires the results of ultrasound — in other words, prepares for giving birth. For the «typical» family life there is bickering between a husband and a mother-in-law, buying a car, ridiculous jokes about broccoli (okay, maybe not so typical, cute).

Suddenly the ordinary is cut off. First of all, for the viewer. He or she learns that the birth will be at home and the viewer will have to witness it — the director deprives him or her of a comfortable chair of the observer. There is almost half an hour naturalistic scene, without soundtrack — only painful groans, cries of «I am in pain, I feel sick.» Slowly creeping and peeping camera, which literally bites into characters' faces, plays in close-ups, not allowing the viewer to shyly look away. The palette is dominated by an unpleasant yellow. The viewer feels uncomfortable, the picture emotionally "breaks" him or her. However, this is fair. In a couple of minutes, the newborn baby will die, and the lives of four people will already be broken: the baby itself, the (already) criminalized midwife and (no longer) newly-made parents.
Love, sex and even a car — everything becomes pieces of the past, of a family unfulfilled idyll. Marta quits her job, sharply reacts to mentioning a child or meeting other children on the street, stops communicating with people. Every sign of social, professional, or internal life disappears. Even the house flowers fade. Everything collapses, and Martha has to rebuild it. By herself.

And she can handle it. Because, among other things, the semantic element is also destroyed. It would seem that the film is sustained following fairly traditional values. More than anything, a woman is waiting for the birth of a child, and its death is her death. But this is just the embodiment of universal human values. Traditional ones are in crisis. In contrast to them a man turns out to be weaker than a woman: he is poorer than the heroine's mother, dumber than his wife (he admits this himself), more prone to instincts (in the film, situations are parallel when both Martha and her husband seek solace in other people, but she stops herself, and he begins to systematically cheat on her), he is more pathetic (the mistress leaves him, the mother-in-law buys his departure).

The main character also enters into a confrontation with her mother. Martha defends her independence by breaking with the traditional view of public opinion. The outside is alien to Martha, it constantly betrays her: the husband leaves, the mother behaves very selfishly, and even a formal, hired "protector" — a lawyer — sleeps with the character's husband.
Martha is left alone with herself. And her inner power is enough for a start to survive the impossible. She comes to court and forgives the midwife, finds salvation inside, not in the external penitentiary system, not in punishing another person, not in what her mother demands. Pieces of a woman are fortitude, love, and mercy. We hear a quiet, manifest cry for inner feminine strength. For human strength.

And this exclamation revives everything around. With forgiveness, the destructive vector is replaced by the creative one. To illustrate, the director uses the classic (naive) metaphor of the changing seasons: with the onset of winter everything finally dies (from the relationship with the husband to the dried flowers in the kitchen), and spring brings everything back to life: Marta scatters the ashes, starts a new family and even flowers on the windowsill grow again.
The director is interested in the theme of nature: there are naturalistic childbirth, the "apple" smell of a baby and a large apple tree with ripe fruits as a symbol of a grown daughter, (repeatedly) mentioned flowers as signals of the state of mind, mainly the natural sounds of the picture — silence, conversations, groans during the childbirth, tears during the loss, rapid breathing on the trial. As if the director is trying to say: "look, this is not a movie, this is our life!" And life has its laws: spring replaces winter, flowers bloom sooner or later, and Marta becomes happy, which means that everything will eventually get better.
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