Martin Provost’s latest film, The Midwife, tells the story of Claire Breton (Catherine Frot) a midwife working in a clinic that is about to close due to lack of profitability. She is passionate about her work but refuses to follow her colleagues to the new hospital that will run their maternity ward like a corporate business sans traditional pink scrubs. Claire’s life is additionally turned upside down with the arrival of Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve), her father Antoine’s mistress who left abruptly. Through their relationship, the film explores the complications of time and tragedy on relationships.
Provost’s film is a slight one that focuses on its two central characters and the unusual situation that brings them together. Frot’s Claire is wound pretty tight. She is a single mother who has been alone for most of her life and is watching her beloved profession being taken over by corporate entities beyond her control. Contrast that to Deneuve’s free-wheeling Beatrice who pulls zero punches and you get a film that is at the very least an entertaining character study. In the beginning, Claire is upset by Beatrice’s presence, as old memories of her father and his tragic death begin to surface. But after discovering some unsettling news from Beatrice, Claire falls back under her spell, the same spell that captivated her father all those years ago. Beatrice has been a looming presence in the life of Claire, and now that she is in her life again, Claire has no choice but to confront it.
Their time together results in heartening changes for both women. Claire opens herself up to a man for the first time in years in a rather touching and playful scene. She also embraces her son and his girlfriend’s new journey as parents-to-be despite their youth. She scolds Beatrice for not taking better care of herself but Beatrice is unapologetic about living her life on her terms. She eats prime rib, drinks wine heavily, and leaves people when it suits her including Claire’s father. The outcome for Claire and her family was tragic and despite Beatrice’s selfishness she is clearly grappling with the impact she had on Antoine, and is saddened by not being able to tie up this lose end she feels. But through each other’s presence, Claire is able to grow and gains the confidence she needs to lead the life she wants, just like Beatrice, on her own terms. In turn, Beatrice is able to find some peace with her past before it’s too late.
The Midwife is reminiscent of Provost’s other film Violette, about French writers Violette Leduc and Simone de Beauvoir and their relationship. In both films you have two sides of the same coin, one manic and one straight-laced, and the dynamic between the pairings is what forms the core of each film. How the clashing of personalities influences the relationship and how over time each individual changes as a result of the other. It’s something that clearly inspires Provost and he is lucky to have the talents of Frot and Deneuve to bounce off each other. Deneuve especially keeps her Beatrice grounded in a performance that could have easily been over the top. Fort’s Claire is easy to overlook, which only serves to emphasize how wonderful she is in the role. These are women who live beyond the screen, walking beside you down the street and in line at the grocery store.
If you are looking for a quiet, no frills experience at the theater to clean your palette of summer blockbusters then The Midwife may be a welcome escape. Frot and Deneuve are the kind of actresses we don’t see regularly in American cinema and they are a pleasure to watch on screen.
The Midwife opens tomorrow at the Ritz Five.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.