Movies to See Right Now

ATOMIC BLONDE

This hasn’t been a first-rate summer for movies, but you MUST SEE the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly timed to the beat of music.
  • The Midwife, with Catherine Deneuve as a woman out of control and uncontrollable, indelibly disrupting another life.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde.
  • The Trip to Spain, another gourmet romp from Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan is funny for the first 90 minutes or so – just leave when the characters part company in Malaga.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, perhaps Richard Gere’s best movie performance ever, and strongly recommended. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

For a ticking bomb thriller, you really can’t top John Frankenhimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, which Turner Classic Movies airs on August 19. Laurence Harvey plays a victim of Commie brainwashing who has become a robotic, remote-controlled assassin. Can he be stopped in time?

The Manchurian Candidate tops off a set of brilliant Frank Sinatra performances (before his directors couldn’t restrain him from mugging): From Here to Eternity, Suddenly!, The Man with a Golden Arm.

Harvey, Sinatra and Janet Leigh are all good, but this is really Angela Lansbury’s movie. Not only is her character promoting the political career of her bombastic Joe McCarthy-like husband, but she is a Communist agent intent on the Communist takeover of the US government. And she is pulling the strings to direct the assassin – her own son! Lansbury’s character makes my list of Worst Movie Mothers.

Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

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ATOMIC BLONDE: kicks ass, looks great doing it

Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in ATOMIC BLONDE

Charlize Theron kicks ass and looks great doing it in the most entertaining espionage action thriller Atomic Blonde.  Theron plays a British secret agent on a mission behind the Iron Curtain just before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  The MacGuffins that she must recover are a list of clandestine operatives and the double agent who has memorized the list.  She runs into more shady characters than in The Third Man’s Vienna, chief amongst them a debauched British agent gone rogue (James McAvoy).

There is intrigue and backstabbing, double-crossing and  at least one major plot twist.  The brutal action is exquisitely filmed and edited, and the Atomic Blonde qualifies as a full-fledged martial arts movie.  Theron’s character is so Stoli-fuelled, that Stolichnaya Vodka must have paid a fortune for product placement.

Atomic Blonde makes excellent use of a more somber version of 99 luftballons (a 1983 hit by the German group Nena).  There’s a Bond-like opening song, too.

Theron is a superb actress with wide-ranging skills (Monster, The Italian Job, In the Valley of Elah).  And, as we saw in Mad Max: Fury Road, she can credibly carry an action movie.  The rest of the cast is also very good:  McAvoy, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan and a bunch of scary-looking guys who play commie thugs.

Atomic Blonde is the first feature directing credit for David Leitch, a guy with a long resume as a stunt man as and a stunt coordinator  Leitch sure knows how to film fights and chases, and Atomic Blonde is really a top-notch action film.

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DVD/Stream of the Week: NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER – big deals are not for little men

NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER

Lior Ashkenazi and Richard Gere in NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER

In Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, writer-director Joseph Cedar and his star Richard Gere combine to create the unforgettable character of Norman Oppenheimer, a Jewish Willy Loman who finally gets his chance to sits with the Movers and Shakers. Norman’s gig is to find two real businessmen that he does not know, pretending to each to be the confidante of the other, and introduce them, hoping that they make a deal (a deal that he neither engineers or invests in), hoping that he can get a percentage as a finder’s fee.

Norman has not so much a ready smile as a compulsive one. Unencumbered by any sense of boundaries or propriety, he literally stalks the rich and influential like paparazzi stalk celebrities. He feigns familiarity and drops names (“a high official, I can’t say his name”). All he time, he tries, usually successfully, to stifle the odor of desperation.

I’ve spent over thirty years in politics, and in my business, it is said that there are Who Ya Know consultants and there are What Ya Know consultants. The most effective consultants combine both. If you’re only at the table to peddle the influence of Who Ya Know, you might be a little shady. That’s Norman.

I know the world of powerful and important people, a world that hustlers try to crash, and I’ve known people like Norman. And I know the Whack-A-Mole pressure of shepherding home a complex, multi-faceted deal. Norman’s character, while extreme, rings true.

Norman is everybody’s acquaintance but has no actual reputation of his own. No one knows where he lives or what deals he has structured before. He is so mysterious that we find ourselves even asking, is he homeless?

This may be Richard Gere’s best movie performance. Gere perfectly distills Norman’s obnoxious ambition to play with the high rollers and then his stress and bewilderment once he’s gotten to the high stakes table. The critic Christy Lemire writes, “You may not be able to root for him, but you can’t help but feel for him.”

Norman ingratiates himself to an Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi) and hits pay dirt when the politician unexpectedly becomes prime minister. Norman says, “for once, I have bet on the right horse”, and indeed Norman did spot a uniquely optimistic quality that other observers failed to recognize and appreciate. For the first time, Norman is relevant and at the exhilarating center of power.

Lior Ashkenazi is brilliant as the politician, a man who is able to recognize his own specific gifts. He is ebullient, and it’s easy to see how people can be attracted to his charisma and infectious confidence. His vulnerability is an appetite for fine things and a neediness for the flattery and attention that a poser like Norman can offer. Ashkenazi played a totally contrasting, much more nerdy, character in Cedar’s 2011 inventive and mostly successful character-driven dramedy Footnote.

Norman is juggling multiple balls in air, and he must make all of his deals pay off because they are all interlinked. It’s kind of like making an exotic bet at the racetrack like an exacta, a superfecta or a pick 6. If one part unravels, the whole thing will come crashing down. Norman has always been able to get by on bullshit, but now he’s has gotten his wish – to play at the highest level, where, at some point you’ve got to deliver. Here’s where “the tragic fall” comes in.

The stellar performances of Gere and Ashkenazi are but two highlights of Norman’s superb casting: Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Harris Yulin, Steve Buscemi. Josh Charles plays a magnate who can sniff out a bullshit artist and can dismiss one with blistering efficiency. The always excellent Isaach De Bankolé (Night on Earth) is memorable in a tiny part. Hank Azaria sparkles as a character who confounds Norman with a taste of his own medicine. And we get to hear the glorious singing voice of Cantor Azi Schwartz.

As they say, if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch. Big deals are not for little men.  Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Note: Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer weighs in at #16 on my list of Longest Movie Titles.

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Movies to See Right Now

Fionn Whitehead in DUNKIRK

There are still two Must See movies this summer – the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly time to the beat of music.
  • The Midwife, with Catherine Deneuve as a woman out of control and uncontrollable, indelibly disrupting another life.
  • The amusingly naughty but forgettable comedy The Little Hours is based on the dirty fun in your Western Civ class, Boccaccio’s The Decameron.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde, and I’ll be writing about it when I have time.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the visually beautiful The Lost City of Z, which revives the adventure epic with cultural sensitivity. The Lost City of Z is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

It’s time for Screwball Comedy: On August 13, Turner Classic Movies presents two of the very best examples, The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire. Both star Barbara Stanwyck, matched with Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve and with Gary Cooper in Ball of Fire. Ball of Fire is directed by the acknowledged master of screwball comedy, Howard Hawkes, with a screenplay touched up by Billy Wilder. The Lady Eve is written and directed by Preston Sturges at the top of his game. In The Lady Eve, Stanwyck regards Fonda with, “I need him like the ax needs the turkey”, and in Ball of Fire, she is described with “That is the kind of woman that makes whole civilizations topple!”


Henry Fonda is no match for Barbara Stanwyck in THE LADY EVE

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DVD/Stream of the Week: THE LOST CITY OF Z – the historical adventure epic revived

Charlie Hunnam in THE LOST CITY OF Z photo courtesy of SFFILM

Charlie Hunnam in THE LOST CITY OF Z
photo courtesy of SFFILM

In auteur James Gray’s sweeping turn of the 20th Century epic The Lost City of Z, a stiff-upper-lip type British military officer becomes the first European to probe into the deepest heart of unmapped Amazonia. Finding his way through the lush jungles, braving encounters with sometimes cannibalistic indigenous warriors, he becomes obsessed with finding the lost city of an ancient civilization. I know this sounds like Indiana Jones, but it’s based on the real life of Percy Fawcett as chronicled in the recent book Lost City of Z by David Grann.

The Lost City of Z opens tomorrow in Bay Area theaters. I saw The Lost City of Z at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILMFestival) at a screening with director James Gray. I’ll be sharing some snippets from Gray’s Q & A on Sunday.

The Lost City of Z begins with an Edwardian stag hunt through the verdant Irish countryside, complete with horses spilling riders. This scene is gorgeous, but its point is to introduce the young British military officer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) as a man of unusual resourcefulness, talent and, above all, drive. Despite his abilities, he has been chaffing at the unattractive assignments that have precluded his career advancement. In the snobby Edwardian military, he has been in disfavor because his dissolute father had stained the family name. One of Fawcett’s commanders says, “He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors”.

That yearning to earn the recognition that he believes he merits – and to attain the accomplishments of a Great Man – is the core of this character-driven movie. Fawcett resists yet another assignment away from the career-making action, a mapping expedition designed to have a minor diplomatic payoff. But it takes him on a spectacular Amazon exploration that brings him celebrity – and backing for more high-profile expeditions. Fawcett was surfing the zeitgeist in the age of his contemporaries Roald Amundsen (South Pole), Robert Peary (North Pole) and Howard Carter (King Tut).

In that first expedition, Fawcett becomes convinced that he can find the magnificent city of a lost civilization deep in the Amazon, a city he calls Z (which is pronounced as the British “Zed”). The Lost City of Z takes us through two more Amazonian expeditions, sandwiched around Fawcett’s WW I service in the hellish Battle of the Somme.
That final expedition ends mysteriously – and not well.

No one knows for sure what happened to Fawcett. In The Lost City of Z, Gray leads us toward the most likely conclusion, the one embraced by Grann’s book. If you’re interested in the decades of speculation about Fawcett’s fate, there’s a good outline on Percy Fawcett’s Wikipedia page.

Fawcett comes with his own Victorian upper class prejudices, but he has the capacity to set those aside for a post-Darwin open-mindedness. Gray made it a point that the indigenous peoples in the movie are independent of Fawcett; Gray shows them living their lives in a world that Fawcett has found, not just advancing the plot points in Fawcett’s quest. Four real tribes – and their cultures – are shown in the film.

As Percy Fawcett, with his oft-manic obsession and fame-seeking that color his scientific curiosity and his old-fashioned Dudley Do-Right values, Charlie Hunnam gives a tremendous, perhaps carer breakthrough, performance. He’s been a promising actor in Sons of Anarchy and the overlooked thriller Deadfall) (and such a good actor that I never dreamed that he’s really British). Hunnam will next star as the title character in the King Arthur movie franchise.

Robert Pattinson is unexpectedly perfect as Fawcett’s travel buddy Henry Costin. With his Twilight dreaminess hidden behind a Smith Brothers beard, Pattinson projects a lean manliness. It’s probably his best performance.

Sienna Miller shines as Fawcett’s proto-feminist wife Nina. I first noticed Miller (and Daniel Craig) in the underrated neo-noir thriller 2004 Layer Cake. Now Miller is still only 35 years old and has delivered other fine recent performances in Foxcatcher, American Sniper and (in an especially delicious role) High-Rise.

Director James Gray (The Yard, Two Lovers, The Immigrant) is a favorite of cinephiles and of other filmmakers, but regular audiences don’t turn out for his movies. That may change with The Lost City of Z, a remarkably beautiful film that Gray shot, bucking the trend to digital, in 35 mm. The jungle scenes were filmed in a national park in Columbia. The cinemeatographer is the Oscar-nominated Darius Khondji. Khondji shot The Immigrant for Gray and has been the DP of choice for David Fincher (Se7en) Alan Parker (Evita), Michael Haneke (Amour), and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris). Along with the stag hunt and the voyages up and down the jungle rivers, there is also a breathtakingly beautiful ballroom scene and a gaspingly surreal nighttime discovery of a rubber plantation’s opera house deep in the jungle.

There have been other Lost Expedition movies, most famously Werner Herzog’s Aquirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. The Lost City of Z shares an obsession, a quest and a mysterious tragic end with those films, but it stands apart with its exploration of the motivation of a real life character and the authenticity of Gray’s depiction of the indigenous people.

Movie studios used to make an entire genre of very fun movies from Gunga Din and The Four Feathers through Lawrence of Arabia and Zulu that featured white Europeans getting their thrills in exotic third world playgrounds. We often cringe at the racist premises and the treatment of “the natives” those movies today. Since the 1960s, the best examples of the genre, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, have had an ironic tinge. With The Lost City of Z, James Gray loses both the racism and the irony, and brings us brings a straight-ahead exploration tale.

The Lost City of Z revives the genre of the historical adventure epic, with all the spectacle of a swashbuckler, while braiding in modern sensitivities and a psychological portrait. This is a beautiful and thoughtful film. The Lost City of Z is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Also see my notes from the director James Gray’s Q & A at the San Francisco International Film Festival.[And here are some completely random tidbits. There’s a cameo by Spaghetti Western star Franco Nero. The closing credits recognize the “animal weath coordinator” and the “data wrangler”.]

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Movies to See Right Now

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter in THE BIG SICK

There are still two Must See movies this summer – the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly time to the beat of music.
  • The Midwife, with Catherine Deneuve as a woman out of control and uncontrollable, indelibly disrupting another life.
  • The amusingly naughty but forgettable comedy The Little Hours is based on the dirty fun in your Western Civ class, Boccaccio’s The Decameron.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde, and I’ll be writing about it when I have time.

My Stream of the Week is the documentary Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table, which tells the story of the New Orleans powerhouse restaurateur who overcame sexism and family betrayal to launch iconic restaurants, invent Bananas Foster, the Jazz Brunch and a host of food trends and mentor the celebrity chefs Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse and Jamie Shannon.  Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table can be streamed from Netflix Instant.

On August 6, Turner Classic Movies will feature His Kind of Woman, one of my Overlooked Noir. Robert Mitchum plays a down-and-out gambler who is offered a deal that MUST be too good to be true; he’s smart enough to be suspicious and knows that he must discover the real deal before it’s too late. He meets a on-the-top-of-the-world hottie (Jane Russell), who is about to become down on her luck, too. They may not be lucky, but they are determined to survive. The delicious cast includes Charles McGraw, Jim Backus, Vincent Price, Philip Van Zandt, Tim Holt and Raymond Burr at his most pitiless.

HIS KIND OF WOMAN

HIS KIND OF WOMAN

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Stream of the Week: ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE – one woman’s climb to a culinary legacy

ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE

ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE

The documentary Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table tells the story of the New Orleans powerhouse restaurateur – and it’s one compelling story.

Ella Brennan is a woman who, before she was thirty, started running restaurants in the pre-feminist 1950s.  Ella Brennan started as the little sister and became the matriarch of the famous New Orleans restaurant family.  She launched Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace, the latter still the greatest of New Orleans Creole restaurants.  On her journey, she had to overcome Mad Men-era sexism,  a slew of business cycles and hurricanes – and even family betrayal.

We see a woman with old-fashioned obsession with detail and very high standards.  We also see culinary and marketing creativity that can only be described as genius.  Ella Brennan is responsible for Bananas Foster, the Jazz Brunch and a host of food trends.  Along the way, she mentored the celebrity chefs Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse and Jamie Shannon.  Here’s a New York Times profile of Ella Brennan that mentions this film.

I saw Ella Brennan last fall at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table can be streamed from Netflix Instant.

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Movies to See Right Now

DUNKIRK


There are two Must See movies this summer – the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly time to the beat of music.
  • The Journey is a fictional imagining of a real historical event with wonderful performances from Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall as the two longtime blood enemies who collaborated to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
  • The Midwife, with Catherine Deneuve as a woman out of control and uncontrollable, indelibly disrupting another life.
  • Okja, another wholly original creation from the imagination of master filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, is streaming on Netflix and also in theaters.
  • The amusingly naughty but forgettable comedy The Little Hours is based on the dirty fun in your Western Civ class, Boccaccio’s The Decameron.
  • The character-driven suspenser Moka is a showcase for French actresses Emmanuelle Devos and Nathalie Baye.

Here are my top picks for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, underway now.

You just shouldn’t miss my DVD/Stream of the Week, The Imposter. Life is at times stranger than fiction, and The Imposter is one of the most jaw-dropping documentaries I have seen. A Texas boy vanishes and, three years later, is impersonated by someone who is seven years older than the boy, is not a native English speaker and looks nothing like him.  Even the con man is  surprised when the family is embracing him as the lost boy – and then he begins to suspect why…The Imposter is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and many other VOD providers.

On August 1, Turner Classic Movies presents the classic film noir The Asphalt Jungle. The crooks assemble a team and pull off the big heist…and then things begin to go wrong. There aren’t many noirs with better casting – the crooks include Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe and James Whitmore. The 23-year-old Marilyn Monroe plays Calhern’s companion in her first real speaking part. How noir is it? Even the cop who breaks the case goes to jail. Directed by the great John Huston.

Also on August 1, TCM airs Some Like It Hot, this Billy Wilder masterpiece that is my pick for the best comedy of all time. Seriously – the best comedy ever. And it still works today. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play most of the movie in drag (and Tony is kind of cute). Curtis must continue the ruse even when he’s next to Marilyn Monroe at her most delectable. Curtis then dons a yachting cap and does a dead-on Cary Grant impression as the heir to an industrial fortune. Joe E. Brown gets the last word with one of cinema’s best closing lines.

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

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DUNKIRK: personal, spectacular and thrilling

Fionn Whitehead in DUNKIRK

In Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has written and directed a gripping historical thriller, somehow both personal and vast.  It’s a remarkable achievement of both storytelling and filmmaking.  Nolan chooses to tell us the story through the lenses of a few minor participants without losing any of the epic sweep of the event.

Dunkirk is the story of one of World War II’s most pivotal events.  It’s May, 1940 – over a year before Hitler invaded Russia and over a year-and-a-half before the US entered the war. German forces have swept across Europe and now control the entire continent.  It’s very thinkable that Germany will invade Britain.  Germany is winning, and it’s more plausible than not that Germany will win the war.

The Germans have trapped a British/French army of 400,000 on a beach in France, certain to be captured or annihilated.  The British navy has the capacity to evacuate 40,000 of them in the best case.  But the best case can’t be operationalized because, when the British load 800 soldiers on a destroyer, German bombers and submarines sink it.  So the British resort to a desperate measure by enlisting 700 small civilian boats – fishing boats, pleasure craft, trawlers, ferries and tugs – to cross the English Channel and pick up the soldiers from an active battle zone.  Amazingly, it worked and 340,000 of the troops were rescued, saving them to deter a German invasion of Britain.

Nolan shows us every conceivable peril faced by the rescuers and the rescued, from aerial bombardment to submarine attack. He starts us following a couple of ordinary infantrymen (Fionn Whiteheand and Aneurin Barnard). When they find a wounded man on the beach, they look at each other wordlessly, toss him on a stretcher take off at the full run for a waiting naval vessel; it’s not spelled out, but they aren’t being selfless – they are trying to jump the line to the ship and get evacuated before hundreds of thousands of other men. They learn that getting off the beach isn’t that easy. Soon, Nolan weaves in a determined civilian heading his tiny boat across the English Channel (the great actor Mark Rylance) and the RAF fighter pilots (the commander played by Tom Hardy) who try to protect the beaches and the evacuation vessels. It’s a race against time for each of the characters as they navigate hazard after hazard, and the experience throbs with intensity

Dunkirk is very historically accurate, although the story has been compressed to a couple of days, and the actual evacuation took over a week. Nolan jumbles his timelines, and sometimes we are jarred by moving from daytime in one story thread to nighttime in another. But the threads eventually converge.

In particular, the depiction of aerial warfare is extraordinary, including what it must have been like inside a cockpit that is hit by enemy fire. Dunkirk contains probably the best ever movie shot of a plane ditching in the ocean. We see what it must have been like to be on a ship sunk by submarine torpedo (hint: much less romantic than Titanic‘s sinking). The Germans employed a Stuka dive bomber, which was outfitted with sirens to terrify its victims on the ground or sea; Dunkirk actually replicates the scream of the Stuka’s sirens very convincingly.

Rylance is superb and the rest of the cast does very well, including Cillian Murphy as a shell-shocked soldier and Kenneth Branagh as an embattled naval commander.

Near the end of Dunkirk, a fighter plane runs out of fuel and glides across the beachfront in one of the most beautiful series of shots in recent cinema.

Dunkirk is that rare breed – a white knuckler with relateable characters and historical integrity. It’s one of the very best films of 2017.

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THE MIDWIFE: life disrupted

Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot in THE MIDWIFE

A woman’s life is utterly disrupted – for better and for worse – by the unexpected appearance of someone from her past.  Claire (Catherine Frot) is a middle-aged Paris midwife who lives a completely contained life, focused only on her passion for childbirth. Her other only other devotion is to her son, who, between med school and his girlfriend, she doesn’t see much of. Claire is so abstemious that she must be the only non-recovering and non-Muslim resident of France who eschews even a glass of wine.

Suddenly Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve) shows up and, in a most unwelcome development, intrudes on Claire’s life. Thirty years before, Béatrice was Claire’s father’s mistress when Claire was a teenager. After dragging Claire’s father into financial ruin, Béatrice suddenly disappeared, and he committed suicide. Now Béatrice, for the first time in thirty years, expects to pick up the relationship with Claire as though none of this had happened.

Béatrice is an irascible libertine and hedonist with champagne tastes and a gambling habit. She’s a master manipulator who has survived by flitting between rich boyfriends, but now she’s down – really down – on her luck. Béatrice has adopted “depending on the kindness of strangers” as her personal creed.

The Midwife is a welcome showcase for the veteran French actress Catherine Frot, whom we don’t get to see enough of in the US, despite her 96 screen credits (most recently in Haute Cuisine). Frot perfectly portrays the generally strong-willed woman who is ultimately unable to resist, bit by bit, the changes to her world.

One of the striking aspects of The Midwife is the opportunity for the great Catherine Deneuve to depart from her often icy and imperious roles. Béatrice is out of control and uncontrollable.

Paul, a simple and lusty long haul trucker shows up and show interest in Claire.   Paul is played by Olivier Gourmet from the great Dardennes Brothers movies Rosetta, The Son, L’enfant and The Kid with a Bike.  This is a much less brow-furrowing role, and Gourmet gets to unleash a delightful measure of gusto.

The Midwife is written and directed  by Martin Provost, the actor who has recently written and directed Seraphine, The Long Falling and Violette.  quite brilliantly edited  and his editor Albertine Lasta – (one of the editors on Blue Is the Warmest Color) know just when to end a scene – down to the nano-second.  This is a very effectively edited film.

The Midwife is a film to settle into and to meet and understand Claire, then to watch her life change.

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