THE MIDWIFE (Sage femme)
Director: Martin Provost
Written by: Martin Provost
Cast: Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Mylène Demongeot
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/1/17
Opens: July 21 in theaters and October 17 on DVD.
Some say that opposites attract; for example, good listeners and good talkers could easily match up. Others say that this is a myth; that people get together with others who are virtual copies of themselves. Martin Provost, who wrote and directs “The Midwife”–having recently contributed “Violette” (about a meeting between Simone de Beauvoir and Violette Le Duc)—takes on the job of getting two women who are polar opposites together after a long spell apart. Anyone in the theater audience could probably imagine what it would be like if two guys, perhaps fraternity brothers who were not particularly tight with each other back at the Delta house, would meet at a reunion, discuss old times, and realize that their differences were never that great after all.
It helps that two of France’s top performers are showing themselves up at their best. As Claire, Catherine Frot with ten Caesar awards in her résumé, plays Claire Breton, who loves her job as a midwife in a small medical center. Adding to the fun of watching the movie is seeing two actual births, babies emerging before they get cleaned up, and how their mothers act with so much joy that they might instantly forget the pain they felt as they are urged to “push.” The woman she is about to run into, Béatrice Sobo dite Sobolevski, is played by Catherine Deneuve, who might be to France what Meryl Streep is to us here in the States.
One is vivacious, the other stolid. One woman takes risks, drinks and eat heartily with a special craving for calf’s heads, veal cutlets, and prime ribs. The other abstains from liquor, favors zucchini over roast beef, and lives in a drab home just outside Paris where she is hit on by her neighbor, Paul Baron (Olivier Gourmet), who drives a furniture truck and is happiest when working.
Béatrice, the bon vivant, has returned to Paris after having disappeared for decades. She is trying to find her ex-significant other, Antoine, who happens also to be Claire’s father, and is stunned to hear that Antoine is dead by his own hand, having never gotten over his lost love. So obsessive is Béatrice, who retains quite well the memory of the departed, that when she meets Claire’s son Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), she plants on kiss on the medical student’s lips, at about the time that Claire, living a relatively sterile existence apart from her duties at the maternity ward, develops a passion for her neighbor. Surprisingly for French people, they seem to know nothing about the French style of kissing.
In the tradition of Hallmark features, Béatrice reveals her diagnosis of brain cancer, realizing that she has little time left despite Claire’s softening the blow by telling her that she will not die. (Note: Whenever someone is told in any movie “You’re gonna be all right,” expect the worst.)
Thanks largely to the A-list French actresses and a male director who knows how to write for women, “The Midwife” does a splendid job in showing, step by step, how each woman affects the other. Inspired by Béatrice, the 49-year-old Claire has been energized by in her meetings with an old friend who, though decades older, is still able to evoke Claire’s hidden desire for romance. All’s well doesn’t exactly end well, but there’s enough joie de vivre on hand to allow the audience to leave the theater with an appreciation for a story that advises vivre pour vivre.
Unrated. 117 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+