Warning: very spoilery about the end of the film – if you want to read my review instead, it’s here.
Pieces Of A Woman is about Martha navigating her grief when her baby dies, and part of that is about her regaining control after the birth. Births are often unpredictable but she had tried to create a place where she could have her baby in the way that she wanted – at home, with a midwife and her partner Sean.
Afterwards she’s trying to keep hold of all her choices, even when some decisions should be made with Sean. Grief can leave you adrift, and eventually it’s only through owning her own path that she makes it through the first terrible months.
Near the end of Pieces Of A Woman, Martha attends the court trying Eva, her midwife, and is cross-examined by the defence lawyer. Martha ends up in tears as he tries to blame the events of the night on her actions, her wanting to stay at home rather than go to hospital once it’s clear the birth is not straightforward.
The hearing is adjourned until the afternoon and she goes to the photographic shop where her sister had left Martha’s roll of photos to be developed. The negatives are ready, and after studying them she asks for one to be printed. She watches it develop in the dark room, the image of her baby Yvette, in Martha’s arms and holding tight to her mother’s thumb. It is, at last, evidence of what actually happened that night rather than three people’s distraught memories.
It is also, I think, the key moment in Martha’s grief when she is able to understand what she can and cannot know about that night, and hence move forward – and is more important than the very last scene.
She goes back to the court and asks to address the judge, saying it wasn’t Eva’s fault and that the answer to her baby’s death would not be found in that courtroom; then she leaves.
Weeks later, we see Martha looking at the now-completed bridge across the river. She scatters the baby’s ashes from a small ceramic jar into the water. Again this is about her choices – previously she had clashed with Sean and Elizabeth over her decision to donate Yvette’s body for medical research, and Elizabeth had begged her that she at least ask for Yvette’s body back later so the baby could be buried.
The next scenes are of a little girl who climbs an old apple tree laden with fruit. Nestling in the fork of the branches, she eats one of the apples. Martha calls her in for her dinner.
It looks as if this is Martha a few years in the future. No longer with Sean – he’d been talking of leaving even before Elizabeth gave him a cheque to go, and Martha had driven him to the airport in the snow – one is left to presume that she has a new partner and this is her daughter.
At first glance seeing Martha with this small child is a sigh-of-relief moment for the audience, that she went on to have another baby. I’m not sure it is meant to be real though.
Not everyone who loses a baby has another child, yet they still develop ways of living and coping with their sadness. I wonder if this scene is really about how Martha has finally gained some kind of closure, that she can carry the memory of Yvette with her and live her life in contentment.
The bond between her and the baby she carried for nine months, then cuddled for moments after her birth, is something that exists outside of all her other relationships.
Real or not, Martha has clearly found a way to cope with her grief and has moved on, though she can never truly leave it behind.
Martha may or may not have more children, but the film is really saying that you have to make your way to some form of contentment in the future, a journey and a destination that may or may not be the ending that society – or even those close to you – would most want for you.
Pieces Of A Woman is now streaming on Netflix. Read my review here.