Pieces of a Woman, Sound of Metal

Two more films to add to our bid to see most of this year’s Oscar nominees prior to the April 25 ceremony. These two movies share a common theme of couples torn apart by tragic loss. Warning: I always include spoilers.

Pieces of a Woman

Pieces of a Woman got shafted by the Oscars nominating committee, I think. Most others don’t seem to agree, but I think this film should also be at least nominated for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and some of the actors in it, in addition to the deserving Vanessa Kirby, also deserve nominations. Hungarian partners Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber adapted the film from their own award-winning stage play, based on their own life experience as a couple as well as a famous trial in their native country. It’s about a couple who are driven to sue a midwife for the death of their newborn infant.

The most extraordinary and unique part of the movie is its widely celebrated first quarter, which is basically a one-take tracking shot of a semi-realtime childbirth. Having been present at birthing experiences twice, I can tell you that this is the first time I have ever seen it accurately depicted in a movie: the stop and start rhythm of it, the jokes and surprisingly ordinary chit-chat between the contractions as they grow closer, the very gradual escalation of the woman’s momentary twinges of discomfort to grunting and then howling and then the final cathartic release. The scene was a triumph on all levels. (And Kirby is my favorite for a Best Actress Oscar on the strength of this scene alone). But I was also impressed with the rest of the film, which a lot of others claim to find anticlimactic. I love the way it examines the apparent break-up of the couple with the same meticulous, merciless attention to detail that we got during the childbirth. This is where I felt costar Shia LeBoeuf deserved a nomination, for his portrayal of a tough, working class guy who is totally broken up by the loss of his child and then his wife. And Ellen Burstyn has a terrific monologue as Kirby’s mother, whose own childbirth had taken place in stifled silence in a shack, as her mother was desperately hiding from Nazis during the Holocaust.

One of my favorite actresses Molly Parker plays the midwife. Her side of the story gets short shrift in the film, one of its weaknesses. If they had built her part up, perhaps the movie would have gotten more positive attention.

Sound of Metal

The title and most of the marketing material (i.e. press photos) for Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal are misleading. We know it’s about going deaf, but all those pix of punked-out Riz Ahmed behind a drum kit seem to indicate that we will be immersed in the heavy metal world throughout the picture, and that it will be about the protagonist’s struggle to stay in the music game, much like Mickey Rourke sought to keep brawling in The Wrestler. But at bottom, it’s really a love story, tinged with irony. Music brought he and his girlfriend (Olivia Cooke) together. Both recovered addicts with four years sobriety behind them, they live an idyllic life that revolves entirely around their music career, touring as a duo, living in their trailer. And of course, it is the high decibel music that has taken his hearing.

The struggle with the deafness would be enough of an ordeal; but the fear that the stress of it will cause him to relapse causes him to check into a recovery facility (in this case, a special one for deaf people). The pair live apart for the first time ever. By the time they reunite, they’ve both changed. She’s living with her rich father in Paris, and exploring other kinds of music. He has spent several months learning how to function as a deaf person. When he finally gets his long coveted cochlear implants, the sounds he hears are disappointing and unpleasant. He hears music in a distorted way now, it can no longer give him pleasure like it did. They, too, provide a “Sound of Metal”, I think the title is meant to suggest. In the end, he leaves the girl (with tenderness and sadness, not anger) and removes the implants, seeking the peace and silence that his new counselor (Paul Raci) has promised exists,

Marder, Rahmed and Raci have all earned their Oscar nominations. The movie covers an amazing amount of emotional ground on such a tiny budget (shot mostly in my beloved Massachusetts with a few scenes shot in Antwerp, standing in for Paris). The film is getting high marks from the deaf community. It’s also gotten nominated for an Oscar in the SOUND category, and it damn well better win that one! The film lives up to the material in exploring Ahmed’s character’s subjective experience, which is oppressive and scary at first, but eventually…calming. Ultimately, I thought the film possessed a wisdom much more universal than that particular experience. It’s about coming to terms with major change and disruption, whatever nature, in her cruel precocity, sends your way.