New York Daily News : 2021-01-24

SUCCESS : 46 : 46

SUCCESS

46 DAILY NEWS Sunday, January 24, 2021 NYDailyNew­s.com Ellen Burstyn, from left, Kornél Mundruczó and Vanessa Kirby on the set of “Pieces of a Woman.” PHILIPPE BOSSE/NETFLIX Filmmakers channel their grief into art Hungarian couple share their story in ‘Pieces of a Woman’ its glories and flaws, belongs to its makers, writer Wéber and director Mundruczó, because it is their story. So much so that it is impossible to imagine “Pieces of a Woman,” with its brutal insistence on emotional reality even at the cost of narrative coherence, coming from anyone else. Not just because they are married partners who suffered a similar loss, but also because they are married filmmakers willing to examine the differing truths and defenses of their own experience through art. To push themselves and each other hard enough to crack their experience open in an attempt to reveal the nature of grief itself. As the film itself does, the creation of “Pieces of a Woman” began with a loss. Wéber and Mundruczó, who have two children, have chosen not to share the details beyond that their experience was not exactly the same as Martha and Sean’s. But it was a shared tragedy that left much grief in its wake — grief that husband and wife experience­d very differentl­y. Which Mundruczó did not realize until he came upon something Wéber had written, a conversati­on between a woman and her mother. “As a couple, after the loss, we do not talk about it,” he says in an interview with Wéber from their home in Budapest. “It was really surrounded by lots of silence. Then I found in her notebook a couple of fragments of dialogue. I read that, and it was completely shocking. I see the female perspectiv­e around this, and I understand that our silence is absolutely active. It is not like, ‘OK, we have moved on,’ and that is why we are not talking about it. It is almost the opposite.” At the time, Mundruczó had been asked to do a play for a theater in Poland. The couple had been searching for a project, and he became convinced it should be an extension of this dialogue. She started to think about anchoring the story as an exploratio­n of who owns a woman’s body — who is responsibl­e in matters surroundin­g birth, what is the mother’s role or duty. “In Hungary, there was a trial involving a midwife,” she says. “It was huge here, and so emotional that no one can talk about it in a pragmatic way. Doctors against midwives, liberals against conservati­ves; it really tore the country apart. So we decided to make a personal story but underneath are all these questions.” The character of Martha, she says, came directly from one of the mothers at the trial. “She said (the midwife) did everything possible for my child, and I don’t want to blame her for my loss. It felt to me like the statement of a hero, ending the revenge culture, taking back her own body and sending a message that you cannot control everything in life, that there is a place for acceptance. This was very important for me to say, especially with my experience. That your child brings love into this world and not something else.” The play that emerged, also called “Pieces of a Woman,” premiered in Warsaw in February 2019. The response was overwhelmi­ngly positive, both critically and personally. After many performanc­es, women would approach the two, thanking them and sharing their own stories. The response was so emotional and universal that Mundruczó began to think about approachin­g other producers, including in the American film community. Adapting the play to film was almost as challengin­g as writing the play in the first place, Wéber says, though for more logistical reasons. The pair have worked together on many projects — but “Pieces of a Woman” is their first English-language film and differs wildly from their previous projects: “White God,” which won Un Certain Regard at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and “Jupiter’s Moon,” which screened in the festival’s official competitio­n in 2017. “Our other films were very conceptual,” Wéber says. “This was much more personal.” The story is so universal that “Pieces of a Woman” could have been a French movie or a German movie — but when the couple signed with Bron studios, it became an American movie. “It’s very strange,” Mundruczó says. “It is such a small movie, really. I would have thought that our first English-language film would have been big genre. I love the miracles of the technical; there are no technical miracles here.” Which isn’t quite true — if you consider a continuous and harrowing shot of a home birth technicall­y miraculous, “Pieces of a Woman” has its technical miracles. But it is a messy film, structural­ly and emotionall­y. A film not so much to be dissected as to be experience­d. And those are the fingerprin­ts you cannot see — the deep impression­s of personal experience that can only be felt. “It is very liberating,” Wéber says of bringing their private loss, transforme­d and retold, to the screen. “You feel relieved you can talk about it. This inner life, this magnetic longing for this child who is always there even if she is not there. There are so many ways to grieve, and we need to allow people to do that.” BY MARY MCNAMARA LOS ANGELES TIMES E very film is filigreed with the fingerprin­ts of its creators — sometimes faint, sometimes overwhelmi­ng tracings of unique visions and experience­s pulled together to create a whole. In some very rare cases, those fingerprin­ts are not so much filigree as foundation, thrust so deep into the film’s essence that they are all but invisible. So it is with “Pieces of a Woman,” which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival and is now available on Netflix. In their English-language debut, Hungarian filmmakers Kata Wéber and Kornél Mundruczó tell the story of a home birth gone terribly wrong, a newborn’s death that leads to grief, blame, betrayal and, in the case of the midwife, criminal charges. Much has been made of Vanessa Kirby’s Oscar-worthy performanc­e as Martha, a woman whose devastatin­g loss sends her on a journey of pain and self-revelation. Ellen Burstyn, who plays Martha’s mother — a Holocaust survivor who has her own deep and adversaria­l relationsh­ip with grief — has also, deservedly, been singled out for awards-season admiration. Indeed, in many cases, critics offered high praise for these performanc­es amid more general declaratio­ns of disappoint­ment with the film. In the end, “Pieces of a Woman,” with all