As their story begins, pregnant Martha (Vanessa Kirby) is feted at an office baby shower, while her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf), a construction engineer on a Charles River bridge project in Boston, is so eager to become a father that he frames the ultrasound photographs of their daughter to hang in the nursery.
Preparing for a home birth, they call the midwife when Martha’s contractions are six minutes apart. But the midwife is delayed; Eva (Molly Parker), a substitute, takes her place. The birth is depicted over a period of 25 tense, agonizing minutes.
Although the baby appears healthy at first, she suddenly ‘turns blue’ and paramedics arrive too late to save her. Subsequent findings by the medical examiner are inconclusive as to cause of death.
While brutish Sean, who has a history of addiction, is openly distraught, grieving Martha becomes coldly clinical, deciding to donate the infant’s body to medical research. That horrifies her controlling mother, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), who is determined to sue Eva, enlisting the aid of an attorney/cousin (Sarah Snook), who is confident they can win criminal and civil manslaughter cases against the midwife.
Scripted in several distinct sections by Kata Weber from her own semi-autobiographical experience and helmed by her husband, Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo (White Dog), making his English-language debut, it unfolds on random days over a period of eight months.
Although she has never been pregnant, Vanessa Kirby observed several women in labor which, obviously, contributes to her animalistic authenticity. An experienced stage/TV actress (young Princess Margaret in “The Crown” & opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible: Fallout”), this is Kirby’s first leading role in a feature film.
For families that have experienced losing a child, this film could touch an emotionally wrenching trigger, particularly coupled with gratuitous nudity, an extramarital affair and a graphic near-rape scene.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Pieces of a Woman is a distressingly visceral 6, bleak and bizarre – streaming on Netflix.