In “Pieces of a Woman” — Netflix’s Oscar-worthy melodrama about a couple devastated by loss of their baby after a home birth — Shia LaBeouf plays Sean, the husband to Vanessa Kirby’s Martha, who is struggling with the unfathomable tragedy.
In one scene, Sean becomes intimate, somewhat forcibly, with his wife, who is uninterested and unengaged, as she feels emotionless and empty after losing her child. In another scene, Sean, under the influence of drugs, throws an object at Martha, calling her belittling and demeaning profanities as he slurs his words.
The scenes depict one side of grief, filled with anger and out-of-character emotions that have gone too far. The film is about working through loss, and the tough-to-watch scenes are part of the character’s journeys.
In real life, LaBeouf was accused of abusive behavior, both verbal and physical, by his ex-girlfriend, the musician, dancer and actress FKA Twigs, with whom he co-starred in the autobiographical film “Honey Boy.” FKA Twigs filed a lawsuit for sexual battery last month, alleging assault and infliction of emotional distress with claims of strangulation and violent attacks. Apologizing in response to the lawsuit, LaBeouf said that not all the accusations were true, while also admitting to his abusive nature, citing his history of alcoholism and aggression. An attorney for LaBeouf has told Variety the actor acknowledges that he needs help, wants to make things right and is actively seeking intensive, long-term inpatient treatment. Prior to the lawsuit, LaBeouf had already been in therapy and says he is a sober member of a 12-step program.
Following the lawsuit, LaBeouf was scrubbed from Netflix’s “For Your Consideration” website, effectively removing him from the Oscar campaign. He has not done any press for the film.
Speaking to Variety, director Kornél Mundruczó and screenwriter Kata Wéber addressed how the lawsuit could impact the reaction to LaBeouf’s character on screen, particularly the aggressive scenes that spark an eerie similarity to some of the off-screen allegations against LaBeouf. The filmmakers kept the focus on the storyline and characters.
“It’s a very interesting and a very difficult question, to be honest,” Mundruczó said in an interview conducted this week, when asked if the allegations might impact viewers’ perception to LaBeouf’s character.
“For me, it was very important to find a character who is very far from Martha, very different, who has connections to drug abuse and addiction. That was really somehow the most important focus for me, to find someone troublesome for that role, which really makes the love bigger in between them,” Mundruczó continued. “Of course, that’s a big question because my heart was really full with sadness and sorrow when I read that. I really feel like every human, to be honest, has the right to come forward and tell their story, and I’m standing with them.”
The filmmakers stressed that while LaBeouf’s character is a necessary part of the experience for Kirby’s character, the film is specifically about a woman’s journey.
“I would like to keep the focus on the movie. I would like to keep the focus on the beautiful inner journey of a female character,” Mundruczó added. “I really hope that it’s [felt] from the movie and the audience understands that’s our meaning and that is really the major statement — is the movie itself.”
The filmmakers — who created “Pieces of a Woman” based on their own personal experience — say creating the film was like therapy for them because they never talked about their miscarriage, since it’s so tough to come to terms with and openly discuss. After writing about her experience in her own notebook, Mundruczó encouraged Weber to write a script. “I felt the urge of writing because we have to break the silence over this,” Weber says. “We are truly hoping that people can come forward and it might help them, too.”
Responding to the notion that some viewers may not be able to easily separate art from the artist, Mundruczó is hopeful audiences will take away a powerful message from the film, which proudly shines a light on the process of loss, grief, recovery and strength.
“It’s a piece of art. You have to separate it, for sure,” he says. “When you’re watching a movie like that, what he has represented there, it’s also very important to see. It is a different approach for grief and handling problems, even if you agree or don’t agree…art has to be truthful and art has to be real. And that was always very important to me, even if I don’t know his background, and I was not digging too deep in his biography.”
Before the lawsuit was made public, LaBeouf’s work in “Pieces of a Woman” garnered some of his career best reviews, with his intense and signature commitment well-received by critics — though the focus has always been on Kirby, who stuns in her first-ever starring role. She won best actress at the Venice Film Festival, where Netflix purchased the film and mounted a robust awards campaign.
Netflix has not commented on the lawsuit, although their action of scrubbing LaBeouf’s name from awards’ recognition surely speaks volumes.
Kirby, who appears to be a shoo-in for a best actress nomination at the Academy Awards with ubiquitous critical acclaim for her painfully honest portrayal, recently responded to the allegations.
“I stand with all survivors of abuse and respect the courage of anyone who speaks their truth,” Kirby said in a brief statement to The Times of London. “Regarding the recent news, I can’t comment on an ongoing legal case.”
Clayton Davis contributed to this report.