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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