Director: Martin Provost
Cast: Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Mylène Demongeot, Pauline Etienne, Pauline Parigot
Running Time: 1:57
Release Date: 7/21/17 (limited); 9/15/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 14, 2017
The one and possibly only thing that the two women share is loving a dead man. To one woman, the man was her father. To the other, he was her lover. The affair was a powerful one. She has not forgotten him, and 30 years after ending the relationship, after traveling the globe to look for a fulfilling life, she has returned to Paris near the start of The Midwife, hoping to find him, reunite, and start back up again where things ended.
The man, though, is dead. He committed suicide shortly after the woman ended their affair—shooting himself in the heart. The daughter found him.
Claire (Catherine Frot), the man's daughter, has every reason to despise this woman, who broke the man's heart and, as far she's concerned, took her father away from her. Thirty years, though, is a long time, even though it doesn't seems that way to Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), the former lover of Claire's father, who calls the daughter on the phone, abruptly asking if she has a way to contact her father.
There's nothing apologetic or even embarrassed in Béatrice's voice on the message she leaves for Claire. She doesn't know her old lover—the man she hasn't been able to forget three decades later—is dead, but that doesn't change that she also seems completely unaware of the possibility that her sudden departure, all those years ago, would have had any consequences.
The setup of Martin Provost's screenplay is dependent on the idea that Claire makes an immediate turn from hating Béatrice to feeling at least a bit of compassion for her—maybe to forgive what the woman did, as well as the consequences she believes that act wrought, but not to forget. The easy way, it seems, is for Béatrice to be dying. She has a brain tumor. The doctors are as optimistic as they can be under the circumstances: As long as the surgery to remove the growth goes well, she can begin chemotherapy treatment or an experimental one in Belgium.
Claire is, as the title suggests, a midwife at a local clinic that is about to be closed because of financial struggles. By profession, Claire is compassionate—surely enough to feel bad for Béatrice's situation.
It feels, perhaps, a bit too convenient that decades of pain and resentment can be wiped away as quickly as it is here, simply because Provost, who also directed the movie, has arranged for this particular dynamic between the central characters. It might be easier to overlook if the movie weren't as simplistic in its depiction of this relationship as it is.
That's not to say the movie isn't without its pleasures. They're primarily in seeing the way that Frot, as a fairly stern and simple woman of 49, and Deneuve, as a free-spirited and almost con-artist-like woman about 20 years Claire's senior, play their characters and the unlikely dynamic between those characters.
Frot's role is a pretty familiar one: a woman who finds herself in unexpected uncertainty—at an age when she probably believed her life would be more stable—dealing with a son (played by Quentin Dolmaire), who is about to uproot his life to become a father, and the amorous intentions of her neighbor Paul (Oliver Gourmet). There's a story just in this character alone, especially in the scenes at the clinic and particularly in a scene in which she delivers the baby of a woman whom Claire herself delivered 28 years prior. There's something undeniably affecting about that scene, and it has nothing to do with the drama surrounding the character.
For Deneuve's part, she plays a character who seems like she should be at the center of a different movie. Béatrice plays poker in a smoke-filled room to get money, pawns off whatever she possesses, and has a shady loan deal with a woman in a top-floor, doll-filled apartment. She does all of this to keep up appearances, because, despite her look and attitude (If there are two things that Deneuve can do without effort, they're look and attitude), Béatrice is essentially destitute. Claire doesn't know this until late in the movie, after repeatedly meeting with Béatrice and even allowing the woman to stay in her apartment.
It's a bit difficult to accept the apparent sense of obligation that Claire feels toward Béatrice. It is a little less difficult because Frot plays her semi-clichéd character with enough depth to understand the urge to help, while Deneuve plays her off-beat character with enough charm and sincerity to justify someone wanting to help her. At first, Claire is skeptical and skittish, of course, but there's a sense of inevitability that goes along with her feelings: We know the two women will bond at some point, whether it seems reasonable or not.
When the movie does eventually get past the conflict, it opens up some honesty between the characters. It might come a bit late, but there are some scenes here that hint at the potential depth of their relationship—a shared grief and regret over the past, as well as different ways of looking at how much the past will affect their futures. That might have been a better starting point for The Midwife, but instead, the movie gets there just as things are coming to a conclusion.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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