By Andrew Harwood

Another semester, another year, the same old blog. Welcome back, cinephiles. 

If 2020 proved anything, it was that the film industry can’t be stopped — in fact, movies rolled out steadily throughout the year. Thanks to the pandemic, new films were released on streaming in mass, meaning we had the pleasure of watching as many films as we wanted. And 2021 is no exception. So, what better way to start this week’s blog than with one of the most anticipated films of the year: Kornél Mundruczó’s “Pieces of a Woman.”

Directed by Mundruczó and written by his wife Kata Wéber, “Pieces of a Woman” tells the story of a young Boston couple dealing with the aftermath of their home birth gone wrong. A chasm of grief, regret, depression and bitterness encloses the couple who begin to question their very existence and purpose.

“Pieces of a Woman” is without a doubt a heavy film — the synopsis alone brings light to that. More importantly, the film is incredibly enlightening. It begs the viewer to understand and take away something bigger than the mere tragedy they witness on screen.

This is something that isn’t necessarily hidden but is made apparent in the beginning 24-minute long, single-shot labor scene, where the audience witnesses pure euphoria turn into utter dismay. Aside from the impressiveness of the take, the shot itself is monumental to the film — it introduces us to the characters and segues into the plot at hand, but it also is the start of a long and arduous downward spiral.

A film should never be predictable — or at least, not to a point where you don’t have to finish it to know what happened. “Pieces of a Woman” is a film that could have never been predicted. Characters and emotions swivel and skyrocket like a variable, constantly in motion, perhaps best situated in the performances of Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf’s portrayal of a lower middle-class construction worker, sober and determined to find justice and reason regarding his baby’s misfortune, is raw and powerful. But the real scene-stealer is his counterpart, Kirby: a grief-stricken woman so befuddled and engrossed by a tragedy that it destroys her very being. A gritty presence on screen and off, Kirby and LaBeouf’s chemistry is unparalleled, for better or for worse.

What can be learned through tragedy? A philosophical takeaway rooted in Aristotle’s “Poetics?” Perhaps, but a film like “Pieces of a Woman” shouldn’t be deemed philosophical because it is so grounded, so personal, so organic. Wéber wrote the script based on her own experience of losing a child with Mundruczó. This real-world basis adds a whole new sensation and a surreal grip to a story no one can fathom being true.

At its heart, “Pieces of a Woman” is a tale about dealing with tragedy — in both the right and wrong ways. Further, the film is a gentle (and not in a good way) reminder that life moves in no set rhythm or purpose. It is an aide-memoire to the notion of moving forward, of never being stuck in the past.

A piece of pure emotive success, “Pieces of a Woman” is by far a spectacle.