The opening scene of Pieces of a Woman may well prove to be the point which either wins or loses its audience. It begins with Martha (Vanessa Kirby) experiencing labour pains while her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) hurries to get the midwife. Continuing through Martha’s labour, her delivery and finally the tragic passing of their new born; director Kornél Mundruczó presents all of this in a near thirty-minute single take. As it unfolds in real time, it’s unclear if the intention is to inspire rising panic or deepening grief, however, once it’s finished it seems impossible that the film will continue. Of course, it has to.

Mundruczó’s previous work has never shied away from upsetting subject matters, and his English language debut is no different. Bolstered with very strong performances – especially Kirby – the film is a depiction of all-consuming grief. As Martha, Kirby seems to move into a different realm, cut loose from the Earth but still weighed down by it. The anonymous American setting is presented with snow and bitter winds. All of these elements combine to make a film that may prove just too bleak for some.

At the film’s core is a deep search for meaning. Whether it ever finds it is up for debate; the majority of the film feels numb and occasionally its overt symbolism retracts from the powerfully subtle performances. However, as it explores its cycles of trauma and tragedy it does reach an ambiguous peace; in the very human ability to push ever forward.

Pieces of a Woman is a difficult watch, but there are incredibly powerful performances alongside possibly the most unforgettable opening sequence of recent years. Mundruczó explores the subject matter unflinchingly and takes it to its limit. Although likely to be unwatchable for some, Pieces of a Woman still manages to find beauty in its grief.



CAST: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Benny Safdie

DIRECTOR: Kornél Mundruczó

WRITER: Kata Wéber

SYNOPSIS: Following the loss of their new born baby, Martha and Sean find themselves falling apart. Either caught adrift from the world, or slipping back into old habits, the tragedy threatens to dismantle their relationship, their family and themselves.