When Vanessa Kirby went from starring in “The World to Come” to “Pieces of a Woman,” she had the rare gift of working with Dávid Jancsó for 18 months, because Jancsó ended up as the editor on both films.
Kirby first met Jancsó during an ADR session. “I remember thinking, ‘He’s going to see me in this red wig [on ‘The World to Come’] and all these takes of this character who is external, expressive and filled with big energy. And on ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ it was the opposite.” Kirby adds she felt vulnerable, but it was then that the close relationship between the actor and the editor formed. “You’re both crafting the performance,” she says.
Adds Jancsó, “We are there to protect your character and you.”
Kirby, a contender in the Best Actress race, sat down with Jancsó to discuss the collaboration between actor and editor and the art of the cut. Directed by Kornél Mundruczó, the film follows a young mother’s journey of grief after a home birth goes tragically wrong.
The two focus on a key scene that takes place shortly after Kirby’s character Martha’s baby dies during childbirth and she is on her way to the coroner’s office to hear the autopsy results.
The Car Ride with Martha and Sean
Jancsó: Kornél is fabulous when it comes to thinking about editing during the shoot. He has a strong theater background, so he encourages the actors to be able to improvise and form these characters to their tones.
The script had these guidelines of what you should talk about in general and what the feeling should be for this. It is an editor’s nightmare to have a car scene improvised.
What you don’t see is the scene that was cut right after. It was a scene waiting at the coroner’s office, and you had to somehow combine her coming out from the supermarket to her directly sitting, talking about the child. We didn’t have the moment of just the two of them quietly in the waiting room. We had to take that car scene, and condense it into having all the emotions. We needed the quiet and the fighting. They did such a fantastic job with the improvisation that we had all of that and we were able to form that performance in the car scene the way we needed it to be – all the elements from the three scenes were put into one.
Kirby: I remember that day because it was getting dark quickly. We had such limited hours and it was snowing hard. By the time they had taken the camera from one side around to the other where they were shooting Martha, I think we had one tape. I remember speaking to Kornel and texting David saying, ‘I don’t think we have it.’
As an actor, you’re on set all the time and you’re not involved in postproduction, but the editor is seeing the bigger picture. I’m so grateful to get to know the process so intimately.
We improvised so much in the car. Martha and Sean were laughing together and bonding before going into something so intensely painful where they would hear the end of the results of the autopsy results about their child.
I remember when I first read it, I wanted to tap into what Juliette Binoche does in “Three Colors Blue.” One of my favorite acting scenes ever is when her character walks past the wall, she’s walking seemingly normally and she puts her hand down, and her hand grazes the wall. Her knuckles bleed from it. That’s someone so silent in her grief and the audience is so intimate with her. Trusting that process, you don’t have to tell the audience what’s happening.
You and I have talked so much about the women who I spoke to and the different experiences of going through something that was so immensely difficult. I tried to collate their collective experience into one person. All of them said they felt alone, isolated and unable to share it.
The Cutting Room
Kirby: At the beginning, we improvised the broccoli joke because it’s one of my favorite foods [and that stayed in]. But I remember asking David about not keeping this other joke in during the car ride because it became a running joke throughout. That’s where you are vulnerable to the editor and director’s process. Everything you do in the scenes and this journey have to make logical sense, but they have to have assembled it all and work out what rings true. Something that rung true on the day and hit a moment, ultimately it serves the greater good.
There’s another moment when Martha is walking home and has a visceral panic attack. We spent a whole day filming and it was cold and in the snow having this full-blown attack.
Jancsó: We had such strong material of her internalizing. Every expression was all on her face, her eyes and movement. So, all the safety shots that Kornel went for, we didn’t need them because it was all in her performance, to begin with.
The apple scenes and the bathtub scene with her playing with water, all had the tension and they were beautiful internalized moments. You didn’t have to express everything to the viewer. As a director and editor, you have to trust that your viewers are smart and they understand what happens even if you don’t show them everything.
In the club scene, part of that was cut because we didn’t need it. You had everything in the walk away at the end and you didn’t need the dialogue because she was shining through these pieces.