The Midwife

 

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A French tale in popular style which places two women at its centre.

 
Midwife, The

Catherine Frot in action (centre)

 

The French writer/director Martin Provost is best known here for his biopics portraying the lives of the painter Séraphine Louis and the writer Violette Leduc, but this new film is something quite different. Not only is it fiction and not fact but it is a work that courts the description of being a woman's picture. That's a phrase that is sometimes used with disdain, but there is no need for that tone always to be apt since it is entirely valid for a film to tell a story in a popular idiom that could well appeal first and foremost to a female audience because they are better placed than a man to identify with the leading character.

 

Indeed The Midwife finds Provost taking things even further by making both of its central figures women and he has come up with what for much of the time comes across as popular cinema of quality. In this he is aided by his stars, two Catherines who show to advantage in this film. One is Catherine Deneuve who needs no introduction; the other, less familiar to us, is Catherine Frot who was so splendid in the title role of Marguerite, the French movie that last year invited comparison with the similarly themed Florence Foster Jenkins. This time Frot is Claire Breton, and once again hers is the title role since Claire is a single mother  devoted to her work in a maternity clinic that is about to close. In what are in essence acceptable sub-plots, The Midwife touches on Claire's mid-life romance with a neighbour (Olivier Gourmet), her  relationship with her son (Quentin Dolomaire) and his pregnant girl-friend (Pauline Parigot) and her doubts about taking up a post in a more modern hospital (the latter an issue that should have been fleshed out more).

 

However, throughout the film the main focus is on Claire's reactions to Béatrice who had been the mistress of her late father and who suddenly comes back into her life after thirty years. Béatrice is, of course, Deneuve's role and one which enables the film to emphasise the contrasts between the life-loving, reckless Béatrice and the practical, sensible Claire whose commitment to being a midwife has become the centre of her life. We soon discover that there are good reasons for Claire to resent Béatrice but, when it emerges that the older woman has been diagnosed with cancer, the caring Claire feels compelled to stand by her.

 

With able support and both actresses on fine form, The Midwife looks set to succeed handsomely on its own terms being technically impressive too. In the event, though, it proves to be overlong at nearly two hours and Provost's screenplay, however adept at setting up the central situation and the uneasy, ever-changing interplay between Claire and Béatrice, seems much less assured in finding an appropriate development and resolution. But, if the film falters, the stars do not: both Catherines are Great.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Pauline Parigot, Mylène Demongeot, Pauline Etienne.

 

Dir Martin Provost, Pro Olivier Delborc, Jacques-Henri Bronckart and Olivier Bronckart, Screenplay Martin Provost, Ph Yves Cape, Pro Des Thierry François, Ed Albertine Lastera, Music Grégoire Hetzel, Costumes Bethsabée Dreyfus.

 

Curiosa Films/France3 Cinéma/Versus Production/Canal+/Memento Films-Curzon Artificial Eye.
117 mins. France. 2017. Rel: 7 July 2017. Cert. 12A.