Pieces of a Woman ★★½

If Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber’s “Pieces of a Woman” seems to rearrange the fragments of a typical melodrama into something unusually jagged and incomplete, perhaps that’s because there aren’t many films about miscarriages or stillbirths. Movies often introduce such tragedies as plot twists — cruel yet narratively convenient ways of bridging the gap between one part of a story and another — but few dare to make them the crux of the story itself.

There are several reasons for that. For one thing, movies about dead babies don’t typically pull Marvel-like numbers at the box office. For another, the pain of losing a pregnancy or newborn child is unfathomable in a way that can be hard to communicate to people who haven’t suffered a similar loss. What does it feel like to mourn something that was never alive? And if someone is lucky enough not to know the answer to that question, is it possible (or even desirable) for a movie to share it with them?

Watching “Pieces of a Woman,” it’s obvious director Mundruczó and screenwriter Wéber — partners in real life who share a “film by” credit here — know the answer to that first question all too well (the press notes indicate a personal loss of some kind, but remain understandably vague about the details). This is the kind of movie you don’t make unless you have to. If the filmmakers struggle to distill some version of their experience into a 125-minute drama that will resonate with people who haven’t felt such hurt firsthand, it’s certainly not for lack of trying.

Mundruczó’s virtuosic movies tend to open like a house on fire only to spend the last two acts finger-painting with the ashes (see: “White God,” “Jupiter’s Moon”) and “Pieces of a Woman” is no exception. On the contrary, this film’s harrowing prologue is the most audacious thing its director has ever shot: A 30-minute long-take that follows an ill-fated home birth in real time as Mundruczó’s camera wends through a Boston townhouse on a gimbal, supplanting the chaos of a handheld camera with a harrowing sense of awe and holy terror.

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