THE MIDWIFE (Sage-Femme). Starring: Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourmet, and Quentin Dolmaire. Directed by Martin Provost. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language). 117 min.
This subtitled French-Belgium film tells the story of a midwife who receives unexpected news from the ex-mistress of her deceased father. The film features two famous French actresses, Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve. Both are icons of the French screen. Catherine Frot plays Claire, a resentful single mother, who separated from her own mother years earlier. Catherine Deneuve plays her father’s ex-mistress, Beatrice, who makes contact with Claire to ask forgiveness.
Beatrice is suffering from terminal cancer and is afraid of living alone, and she renews contact with Claire, looking for redemption. Claire hasn't heard Beatrice’s voice for 35 years and she responds tentatively to Beatrice. Claire has much to forgive. When Beatrice left her father, it broke his heart, and he suicided soon after. His death is not known Beatrice, who is devastated by the news that he has passed away, and the tragic circumstances of his death.
Claire and Beatrice are very different persons, and the relationship between them develops slowly. Claire is painfully reserved, and works at a struggling maternity clinic in Paris; Beatrice is entirely free spirited. Claire loves fine food, meat and wine, and Beatrice is a vegetarian, who prefers vegetables that she grows at home. Claire is aloof from men, while Beatrice has had a string of lovers (including Claire's father). Claire leads a tidy, well organised life, while Beatrice's life is a series of extravagant episodes of gambling, smoking, drinking, and self-indulgent behaviour that she pursues “for the power of pleasure”.
At the conclusion of the movie, something happens, in a quite unexpected way, which brings the relationship of the two women to an end, but not before conflicts of the past are resolved emotionally. The film shows Claire and Beatrice working through there conflicts to find comfort and companionship in the company of each other.
The film is a bitter-sweet drama about an unlikely friendship of two women, who come together after experiencing major disappointments in life. The sugary nature of the plot line could have steered the film toward pure melodrama, but it doesn't. This is largely due to the acting talent of Frot and Deneuve, who commandingly project the subtleties of the characters that they are portraying. They play their characters with richness, realism, and an edge of toughness. Overall, the film tells the viewer, dramatically and movingly, that wisdom and understanding can emerge from forgiveness and acceptance of things past.
The film is impressively shot, framed, and edited, as it peels back the layers that separate the two women. The story-line, in a sense, is a device for showing the impressive acting talents of both Frot and Deneuve. Acting completely against expectancy, for example, Deneuve sheds her self-contained beauty to become a spent-out woman with regrets, and it is those same regrets that shake Claire out of her excessively ordered life.
The film introduces a range of other people. Claire’s only child, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire) captures emotional moments of rapport with his mother, and Paul (Olivier Gourmet) brings colour and understanding to his role as a spirited truck driver who is romantically interested in Claire. Behind the clash of personalities, we learn plot-wise that the maternity clinic where Claire works is about to close down, because it is not making enough profit, but Claire values natural birthing too much to simply become a “birth technician” in the high-tech clinic that replaces it.
This is an emotionally intelligent drama that engenders considerable insight. The film is directed calmly and knowingly by Martin Provost, and it is beautifully acted by Frot and Deneuve. It sensitively contrasts the lifestyles and temperaments of two very different women, but at its core, it explores meaningfully the theme of forgiveness in human relationships.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released October 26th., 2017