Pieces of a Woman review – vehement but inauthentic childbirth drama

Kornél Mundruczó’s film, starring Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf as a young couple hit by tragedy, combines high trauma and horribly unconvincing stretches

Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó deserves our thanks for going somewhere very few film-makers want to go: out on a limb. Many a time, his neck has been risked and his arm has been chanced; he makes movies to challenge us. White God (2014) was a Hitchcockian nightmare about a mass uprising among all the dogs in a city, and Jupiter’s Mood (2017) was a fantasy superhero-parable about a Syrian refugee who gets the ability to fly after being shot by an immigration cop.

Most of his movies have been set in Hungary, but this new drama, scripted by Kata Wéber (who also wrote White God and Jupiter’s Moon), is his first English-language film, set in an indeterminate American city (but filmed in Quebec). It’s a vehement, forthright and sometimes unwatchably painful and upsetting emotional drama about the death of a baby; his two stars, Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf, are at all times giving it upwards of 10,000%, especially Kirby. This is clearly a personally engaged film for its creators; I wanted to admire it and in a sense I do. But there is something self-conscious and hammily plotted about it, once we have got past the real-time ordeal of its terrifying opening scene. There are times when a North American transplant of this European director is unconvincing, and the central situation itself is like a pop-art image rather than the impassioned real thing. We are uncomfortably close to Lars von Trier territory, or maybe Atom Egoyan at his most prescriptive.

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