Pieces of a Woman

Every actor is on top form in Pieces of a Woman, particularly Vanessa Kirby as a young woman coming to terms with the death of her daughter during a difficult home birth

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 05 Jan 2021
  • Pieces of a Woman
Film title: Pieces of a Woman
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, Benny Safdie, Sarah Snook, Iliza Schlesinger
Release date: 1 Jan

Brace yourself for sorrow. Pieces of a Woman, the first English-language film from Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, is the kind of blistering melodrama for grown-ups that Hollywood barely makes anymore. Vanessa Kirby is vivid and utterly compelling as Martha, a young Bostonian woman coming to terms with the tragedy that opens the film: the death of her daughter, who stops breathing in her arms after a complicated home birth overseen by her well-meaning but feckless partner Sean (LaBeouf) and a nervy replacement midwife (Parker) who subs in at the 11th hour.

The birth takes place in one astonishing unbroken take. The aftermath – the breakdown of Martha’s relationship with Sean, scorching arguments with her imperious mother (Ellen Burstyn), a court case judging the midwife’s negligence – plays out in short sharp scenes as icy and jagged as Benjamin Loeb‘s wintery cinematography. It’s an acting masterclass so good you barely notice Pieces of a Woman’s obvious theatrical roots.

Mundruczó's previous films (White God, Jupiter's Moon) were heavy on metaphor and he overindulges here too, with rotting fruits, dying plants and the incomplete bridge that engineer Sean is working on all heavy-handed symbols that come off as clumsy next to the powerhouse performances. But Pieces of a Woman shines when Mundruczó’s focus is his actors – during awkward dinner scenes, blazing rows or when simply observing Kirby, a raw nerve behind a cool exterior, as she gazes at the children she sees everywhere around this close-knit Boston and longs for what might have been.

Streaming from 7 Jan on Netflix