You have to go back to Aspen meat, by Pedro Almodóvar, or the most recent Roma, by Alfonso Cuarón, to remember the impact of a childbirth on an entire film. In Almodóvar’s film, the blow was similarly hit because it also happened in the first minutes and because it also catapulted an entire actress. On that occasion, Penelope Cruz was the woman in labor and Pilar Bardem the accidental midwife on a bus that Alex Angulo was driving through the center of Madrid. A delivery with a placenta included and Pilar Bardem’s mouth dripping blood after cutting the newborn’s umbilical cord with her own teeth. A prologue that wasted, in addition to guts, grace and life and whose characters did not appear on the screen again except for one, the baby. In almost opposite stylistic orbits, Fragments of a woman It starts with the long sequence of that birth on which the whole film will gravitate. Although in this case, the absence will be that of the baby.
Without being round, it is a film that delves into complex mother-child relationships and forgiveness. The delivery sequence is planned with enormous tension by its director, the Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó, and captained at all times by its main actress and absolute owner, Vanessa Kirby. In an instant, when the pain and panic of the new one begins to overwhelm, her request for help will not be neither her partner (Shia LaBeouf) nor the midwife (a wonderful Molly Parker) but her mother, an inflexible old woman played by the great Ellen Burstyn whose powerful and uncomfortable presence will be central after the devastating outcome of her daughter’s pregnancy.
In no case are we facing a film about the dangers of home birth, although part of its knot gravitates on the judgment of an increasingly widespread practice. The real issues – as happened in Manchester by the sea, film starring Casey Affleck with which this film has a certain emotional affiliation — they are survival and forgiveness. Kirby, who obtained the Volpi Colpa at the Venice Film Festival for his profound work, manages to compose with a riot of internal nuances and external details that go from nails to hair to a woman entrenched in her coldness and in her management of guilt. In front of her, her partner, an unclassified man unable to assume his secondary role, a guy suffocated by a woman turned into a mere survivor and by a mother-in-law who despises him. It is not that the character of Shia LaBeouf is not important, it is that the background of this dry and implacable drama is settled between women (including the midwife), all of them forced to settle accounts with the inexorable umbilical cord that binds them to life and death.