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The Truth About The Baby In Pieces Of A Woman's Opening Scene

The first 30 minutes of director Kornél Mundruczó's and writer Kata Wéber's adaptation of their 2018 stage play Pieces of a Woman is a single shot birthing sequence. The Crown actress Vanessa Kirby plays Martha Weiss, a 30-something executive and expectant mother who has opted for a home birth. When Martha goes into labor, her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) calls their midwife, who is unavailable, and so Eva (Molly Parker) comes in her place. Labor is complicated, and Eva suggests the need for a hospital, but the three seem to make it through a successful delivery. 

The afterglow lasts only moments as Eva, trying to collect herself, sees the baby turning blue. Yet, even with the help of an ambulance crew, Martha and Sean lose their baby — something Martha's mother hangs over her daughter in a scene Kirby's co-star Ellen Burstyn finds difficult to discuss. It's a chaotic moment, but a realistic one. In 2018, the CDC recorded around 566 infant deaths per 100,000 live births, noting that a newborn being "affected by maternal complications of pregnancy" is among the top three causes of death. The moment in which Martha loses her child feels impossible, and yet, complications and losses like these can happen to anyone. 

Mundruczó and his production team's ability to capture the emotional realism of Martha's labor and loss is due in part to their talent, but also their approach. Kirby connected with an expectant mother and sat in on her six-hour labor to help her prepare to portray home birth realities. In an interview with Decider, Mundruczó's revealed that he also drew from real-life to help deliver the film's defining moments. Where some productions might opt for a physical or animatronic doll, Pieces of a Woman featured a real baby just a few months old when the sequence was filmed. 

Kornél Mundruczó used a real baby to film the Pieces of a Woman birth, but not everything about the scene was real

Although the birth itself is dramatized, the Hungarian director shared that the baby featured in the film was the child of a Montreal mother. "We had an amazing Montreal French mother gave the opportunity to shoot with her baby. She was really part of the shot," the Pieces of a Woman director explained. 

Still, not everything you see on screen is real. Mundruczó stated that despite dealing with a tiny actor, the child turning blue wasn't happening in real-time. The film used CGI to help realize the scene on which the movie's entire drama hinges. He went on to tell Decider that the decision to feature a real baby was about capturing the emotional resonance between Kirby's character and her newborn, something he says wouldn't have happened as well had the child not been living and breathing. 

"It was a real baby, and you can watch it on [Kirby's] face," Mundruczó stated. "That connection is the whole movie, and it would never happen [with a CGI baby]. It's impossible."

Beyond the baby becoming an unnatural blue, viewers may have also noticed that despite seeing just about every other part of Martha's home birth, once the baby turns blue and Sean runs out into the street to get the paramedics, the camera doesn't go back inside the home with Sean. Like the decision to work with a real baby, Mundruczó shared that it was important to capture the realities of situations such as this, but that his choice not feature the child's fate on-screen was about respecting the loss and also the mother's who overcome it. 

"I really didn't want to go there," he said. "Not just because of the voyeurism, but also because I would like to tell a story about grace, love, and strength, and not just about loss and tragedy."