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Pieces of a Woman review – Vanessa Kirby excels in outstanding study of grief

This unflinching tale of neonatal death is a highly personal project for director Kornél Mundruczó and writer Kata Wéber

The extended single-shot take is a powerful weapon in the film-maker’s arsenal. Without the punctuation of an edit or the breathing space of a change of angle, the single shot demands unwavering audience participation. It grabs us by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s a device that is abused at least as frequently as it is used effectively: for every blisteringly kinetic action sequence from Children of Men, there is the showy plumage of something like Birdman.

But rarely have I seen a single shot used as arrestingly as the 23-minute sequence near the beginning of Kornél Mundruczó’s Pieces of a Woman. Hours of labour; the traumatic home birth of the baby of Martha (the remarkable Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf); the way time compresses and stretches with each contraction; the devastating blunt force of tragedy that comes shortly after birth: all of this is condensed into a woozy, disorienting, umbilical unbroken take.

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