When a young mother’s home birth ends in unfathomable tragedy, she begins a year-long odyssey of mourning that fractures relationships with loved ones in this deeply personal story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss.
My first film of 2021 is ‘Pieces of a Woman’, a heartbreaking and harrowing movie about a couple coming to terms with the death of their child during labour. It’s directed by Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó from a screenplay by Kata Wéber, and given one of his previous films involved hundreds of dogs (‘White God’), it’s no surprise that he is again willing to push the boat out in terms of what can be achieved on film. Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf star as the couple at the centre of this emotionally draining drama, and both give work approaching career best, certainly so in Kirby’s case.
The film’s highlight is a bravura sequence containing a single 17 minute shot, following Martha (Kirby) and Sean (LaBeouf) as she goes into labour, with midwife Eva (Molly Parker) the other individual involved. It’s as intense a sequence as you’re likely to see in any film this year and I was utterly mesmerised by it, and despite knowing what was coming, it packs a hell of a punch when the shot ends and the title credits roll. It’s not often a film takes 30 minutes to reach the opening credits but it’s particularly appropriate in ‘Pieces of a Woman’, acting as a clear separating marker between Martha’s life before and Martha’s life after suffering such an unimaginable tragedy. The second, longer part of the film is focused on the aftermath, and it naturally struggles to keep up the momentum of the opening, but it does provide time for a thoughtful exploration of the impact such an event has on people. Vanessa Kirby is incredible as Martha and is surely a frontunner for the ‘Best Actress’ Oscar award, whilst LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn (as Martha’s mother) in particular are terrific as well – this is very much a performer’s film.
‘Pieces of a Woman’ is an uncompromising and traumatic tale of a woman who suffers the pain of stillbirth, with a stunning opening 30 minutes and an Oscar worthy leading performance from Vanessa Kirby. It does struggle to maintain the pace after that breathtaking opening, but this is a powerful and moving emotional drama about a subject rarely explored on screen, and it’s a very strong opening to 2021 in cinema (or home cinema….).
Directed By: Kornél Mundruczó
Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie and Jimmie Falls