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VENICE 2020 Competition

Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber • Director and writer of Pieces of a Woman

“I can't tell you how grateful I am to my cast”

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- VENICE 2020: We spoke to Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber, the director and writer of Pieces of a Woman, one of the titles taking part in this year's Golden Lion competition

Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber • Director and writer of Pieces of a Woman
(© La Biennale di Venezia/Foto ASAC/Giorgio Zucchiatti)

We had the chance to talk to Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber, respectively director and writer of Pieces of a Woman [+see also:
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interview: Kornél Mundruczó and Kata W…
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, one of the titles taking part in this year's main competition at the Venice Film Festival. The drama focuses on a young couple, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), whose lives change irremediably during a home birth being overseen by a midwife (Molly Parker), who faces charges of criminal negligence.

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to set the story in Boston?
Kata Wéber:
Boston was a suggestion that came from all of the producers. They imagined the story, and they said: “You'll need a place that has conservatives and liberals, a city which has a large Jewish community, and you need to set it somewhere where home birth is still possible.” So all of these aspects made Boston the best choice.

What was the most difficult part of the development phase?
K
W: It was hard all the way through. It was difficult to translate and to adapt the story, while we lost a lot of material during the process. You find what's stronger and what's weaker, and you need to give up a lot! But that loss is for the greater good, obviously. And that's hard not just because of the culture shock, but also because of the different experts – the legal consultants, for instance – that jump on board your project.

We see this troubled couple's struggles throughout the film. How did you work on building up the relationship between Sean and Martha? How did you prepare your actors?
Kornél Mundruczó:
The basic idea for them was to follow two different processes. While Martha is completely isolated and longing for her lost one – for her, the lost one [her newborn daughter] is a presence, something that’s almost alive – for Sean, it's kind of the opposite. He wants to move on but by going back to the happy times. He just wants the “old Martha” back, the woman he knew before that tragedy took place. That's the dynamic behind their relationship, and the only thing that can happen is that they fall apart, although, deep inside, they still love each other, somehow. That's what pushes Sean to get back on track and to push his wife, too, but too early. Then Sean begins to self-destruct, which is a tendency connected to his past, and he believes that Martha will move on if he steps away. The scene at the airport hints that they're still in love: there was no fight, but they just need to part ways. During the shooting phase, I gave Shia and Vanessa a lot of freedom. They found their reasons to play their roles that way, while I was following the emotions more.

What kind of qualities were you seeking while casting the supporting roles?
KM:
I can't tell you how grateful I am to my cast. Though Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby's roles are the major focus, Molly Parker [the actress playing Eva], for example, did an amazing job, and she was only shooting with us for three days. For those two scenes, however, her weight was really significant. The most important thing was to choose actors that worked great as an ensemble. The film still feels a little bit like a theatre play, and you need very good actors for this type of work.

How did you work with the cinematographer to achieve that particular standpoint found in the movie?
KM:
We used only one tool, called a gimbal, and we shot the whole movie with that. We used one lens, a Panavision Zoom, a vintage lens from the 1990s that delivers that peculiar cinematic quality. In any case, the main idea was just to make the camera work quite “spiritual”, almost like a soul floating around the characters. Also, we did not want to go handheld to give the feel that the standpoint was that of a person. That eventually became the language of the film, which is also great for the actors, who gained much more freedom in front of the camera.

What was the most challenging part of your work on set?
KM:
The speed. You have to film two or three scenes per day, and we shot the whole movie in 30 days. That's a very limited amount of time – back in Europe, you could have made it in 45 days. But the actors were well prepared, they were on fire every day. Another production challenge was how to cheat and imitate the seasons [the film was shot in Montreal, and the story starts in autumn and ends in spring], an effort that requires money and creativity.

Were there any specific works that somehow affected the writing of the story?
KW:
Yes, but just on some minor aspects – for example, John Cassavetes' A Woman Under Influence (1974). I wanted to create an environment that serves as the ground where two parallel universes collide. Perhaps I shouldn't mention Hamlet, but that has the same structure: there's someone who's in one universe, and everyone else is in another one.

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