Vanessa Kirby, who has two movies at the Venice Film Festival, today hit the Lido to talk about Kornél Mundruczó’s Pieces Of A Woman. The film tells the story of a couple whose home birth goes devastatingly wrong, resulting in the loss of their child, and deeply explores the mother-daughter relationship. Ellen Burstyn and Shia LaBeouf also star.
Written by Mundruczó’s White God collaborator Katá Weber, and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, it’s a sort of character study on grief.
For Kirby, going so deep into her character and the internalized grief, “was scary,” but, she noted, “when you approach anything really difficult, prior to day one you have to collectively hold hands. We tried to create a container in which we felt trust and respect. I haven’t felt as much respect in my life. There is an incredible bond between all of us.”
Still, it was “a challenge for me, I am naturally quite expressive, to try and push it all down. Shia is so present and giving in the scenes that it was difficult not to meet him with power and to restrain it all.”
Burstyn, appearing virtually at today’s press conference, said she and Kirby, “Very quickly developed a relationship that had a mother-daughter feel to it… (My character) wants her daugther to grieve in a way that is more conventional and acceptable. Then at the same time, when it really gets down to it, what she wants is for her daughter to really be herself, to really experience the grief and to survive as she and her family have survived.”
Weber explained that part of the story has to do with how Holocaust survivers and families deal with tragedy and pass patterns from mother to daughter. “The biggest issue in those families is the ability to survive, you have to learn it and give it to the children.” In Kirby’s character Martha, Weber wanted “a hero who can have her own way to find her own answers within this grieving process and be brave enough not to take revenge.”
The birth scene is a 30-minute one-take shot and Mundruczó said the decision was made to do it that way to be as close to Martha as possible and to “share this experience with Martha on a very simple level and in a very serious way.” The entire film was shot with a gimbal which was “like a spiritual camera, like floating,” the director said. “It gives space to the actors and stays cinematic and we just follow them with this toy.”
As for casting, Mundruczó said he had been trying to find a movie to do with LaBeouf and when Kirby got the script, she flew to Budapest in 24 hours. He was already a big fan of Burstyn from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and “like 200 other films.” The group spent four days together in New York and “there was no other question.”
Mundruczó, screenwriter Kata Weber and exec producer Viktoria Petranyi all sported T-shirts today that said “Free SZFE” and explained this was in support of students of film and theater arts in Budapest, who are fighting for their school. “This case is our case,” Petranyi said.