Vanessa Kirby in Venice

Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby in Kornél Mundruczó’s Pieces of a Woman (2020)

Vanessa Kirby was a rapidly rising star of the British stage and had turned in a tidy collection of strong supporting performances in films by such disparate directors as Richard Curtis, John Boorman, Baltasar Kormákur, and the Wachowskis when she landed the role of Princess Margaret in the first two seasons of the hit Netflix series The Crown. Blockbusters followed, naturally: Mission: Impossible – Fallout in 2018 and last year’s Fast & Furious spin-off, Hobbs & Shaw. Now Kirby has arrived in Venice as the star of two films premiering in competition. Pieces of a Woman, directed by Kornél Mundruczó and written by Kata Wéber, has been met with mixed to favorable reviews, while praise for Mona Fastvold’s The World to Come has been close to unanimous.

In Pieces of a Woman, Kirby’s Martha works in a sleek office in Boston, has a seemingly solid relationship with her construction worker husband, Sean (Shia LaBeouf), and a far more strained one with her wealthy mother, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn). She’s also pregnant and due any moment now. When she goes into labor, her midwife is wrapped up in a difficult birth and sends a replacement, Eva (Molly Parker), setting off an intense sequence captured in a single, meticulously blocked sequence. “There is not even a fake cut,” Mundruczó assures Geoffrey Macnab in Screen. “Decades from now, whether they love or hate the movie (it’s the kind that divides), audiences will still be talking about the virtuoso twenty-three-minute ‘oner,’” predicts Peter Debruge in Variety.

Several critics would agree with IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, who writes that 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.” The passages that follow that powerhouse opening introduce Martha’s cousin, Suzanne (Sarah Snook), a lawyer; Martha’s sister, Anita (Iliza Shlesinger); and her husband, Chris (Benny Safdie), a car salesman. “Viewed as an acting masterclass, the film is bruisingly impressive in its way,” writes the Guardian’s Xan Brooks. “The principal actors raise the roof; each gets to do their big turn for the camera. But it feels a little schooled, a little staged, like a workshop at the Actors’ Studio.”

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