THE MIDWIFE — Review by Cate Marquis

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THE MIDWIFE POSTERTwo great Catherines – Deneuve and Frot – star in THE MIDWIFE, a thoughtful French-language tale of family, childhood memories, and changing life in modern France. As the title suggests, one of the central characters is a midwife, a profession with a long and honorable history bringing the next generation into this world. Claire (Catherine Frot) is a really good one, the best at the little clinic near Paris where she works, but the small old-fashioned clinic is closing down, unable to compete with the big modern hospital nearby. Claire resists the idea of going to work for the big hospital, as she resists so many other changes. At home, Claire put aside her own personal life to concentrate on raising her son, now a student in medical school. Continue reading…

Unexpectedly, her late father’s long-ago mistress, Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) turns up, wanting to re-connect after all these years. Beatrice still takes care with her appearence but she’s clearly in the skids, broke after a life of serial affairs, and now suffering from a brain tumor. Claire responds coolly to Beatrice’s efforts to rekindle their once- close bond, but that Claire speaks to Beatrice at all is the greater mystery. As the story progresses, we learn the tragic and complicated history between them as this intriguing family drama unfolds.

Writer/director Martin Provost brings together these two great French actresses in a story written specifically for them. The story is both about the characters’ personal journey, their shared history and present relationship, and, indirectly, about a changing France, Paris in particular. The scenes in the movie allude to shifts in French society, from the world of cafe and smart shops of the past, to a modern diverse city, but all is told through the relationship between these two women. The director also offers gentle commentary on changes to the physical world. In one scene, a bucolic view down the Seine River, on whose banks Claire has a little vegetable plot, is suddenly disrupted by the sudden appearance of a high speed train streaking across the old fashioned stone bridge. In another, a neighbor shows Claire a limestone bluff hidden in the woods, with a breathtaking view of the distant modern Paris, and producing a startling juxiposition of the past and present.

With firm but never heavy-handed guidance from Provost, Deneuve and Frot explore the complexity of their shared history and feelings, of France then and now, in an acting tour-de-force. This film is a must-see for fans of either actress, or for fans of French culture or even those who might enjoy a well-drawn study of the inner lives of women and their relationships with each other. THE MIDWIFE is a warm-hearted, intelligent film as full of life as the profession in the title suggests.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.