Frightening Birth Scene Runs Too Long
If you are a medical student, you will love Pieces of a Woman. Other than in my high school science classes has there ever been as graphic a depiction of childbirth than in this film from director Kornel Mundruczo. Complete with a realistic prosthetic of female genitalia, umbilical cords, and wide-screen birth canal vistas, a budding gynecologist might be ecstatic to see all this laid out before him/her. For the rest of us, I’m not so sure. In a scene of more than 20 minutes with no cuts, we are tortured by the graphic episode of Martha (Vanessa Kirby) giving birth to her baby girl.
All the screams, the sweating, the moans, and the pain embellish Martha’s anguish and adds to the horror. If you don’t run screaming from the theater by this excessive realism, then you are stronger than this reviewer. Although it’s a tour de force on the part of actress Kirby, it may remind many viewers to swear off sex.
Martha and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a young couple from Boston. The film is strangely shot in Quebec when beautiful Boston would have done just as well as itself. (Well, that’s Hollywood.) They insist on having a home birth for their first baby. They hire a recommended midwife (Sarah Snook) to assist, but things go wrong when they desperately need the assistance of oxygen. (This is what makes the film a tragedy and not a musical.)
The couple’s relationship crumbles as Martha crumbles and the film begins to crumble. Martha becomes a rather disagreeable character who seems unresponsive in most of her time on camera. After her bravura childbirth scene, Kirby’s Martha doesn’t seem to have much purpose and seemingly sleepwalks through the rest of the movie.
Shia LaBeouf plays Sean as a softie lout, a construction worker who is building a new bridge. What he can’t seem to build, is his relationship with Martha after going through their horrifying tragedy. In an unrealized attempt to make love to her again, we are treated to both male and female nude shots, which are not much more than you can see at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum with its naughty paintings.
The highlight of the movie is a gift to us from veteran actress Ellen Burstyn. Among her five nominations for an Academy Award ®, Burstyn won Best Actress Oscar® for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore in 1975. In this film she plays Martha’s domineering mother, a survivor of the holocaust. In one knock-out monologue scene, Burstyn wipes the floor with the other actors and shows us once again that this 88 year-old actress is one of the best. She is also stunning with beautiful snow-white hair. She certainly should be in contention for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® nomination. Just seeing Ellen Burstyn command the screen once again is worth the price of admission.
(Released by Netflix and rated “R” for language, sexual content, graphic nudity, and brief drug use.)