- Emma Simmonds
- 30 June 2017
EIFF 2017: Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot collaborate beautifully in Martin Provost's drama
Bringing together two of France's finest leading ladies, The Midwife (Sage Femme) is a film that, despite a certain amount of predictability and a lack of obvious flair, explores an unusual female dynamic. Writer-director Martin Provost (Séraphine) tells a heartfelt story extolling the virtue of forgiveness and showing how the concept of family can extend beyond blood ties.
Catherine Frot is Claire, the midwife of the title, who lives in a tower block in Mantes-la-Jolie on the outskirts of Paris. Perfectly suited to her vocation, she's the epitome of a safe pair of hands but her beloved suburban clinic is about to be closed and Claire is resisting a move to a high-tech, and highly impersonal, Parisian hospital. Her carefully contained life is disrupted further when her father's former mistress Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve) gets back in touch; she's a hard-living gambler with whom – contrary to appearances and convention – the sensible Claire once shared a bond.
Midwifery is a profoundly impactful profession that's been neglected on screen and the scenes set in the clinic, which give us a snapshot of the scope of Claire's work, are authentic and moving. The sensitivity with which she treats the young women in her care is mirrored in the compassion and sense of duty she shows toward Béatrice when it's revealed that she has a brain tumour.
Haunted by her diagnosis, Béatrice finds that living each day as if it were your last doesn't make staring down death any easier; the way she tries to hide her fear and loneliness behind a carefree persona is desperately sad. The persistent beauty of these women is not in doubt, nor should it matter, but Béatrice's tired glamour and Claire's drab dress sense are shown to do neither any favours and there's something wonderful about the way they bloom once again after coming together. Both actresses are superb here but it's a particularly juicy role for Deneuve.
Olivier Gourmet gives a sweetly bemused turn as truck driver and enthusiastic allotment gardener Paul, with whom Claire strikes up an impulsive affair; however, the romantic subplot remains safely on the sidelines. Instead, the foregrounding of female solidarity and the painstaking lead performances make this a genuinely affecting tale of two women.
Screening on Fri 30 Jun and Sat 1 Jul as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017. Limited release from Fri 7 Jul.