‘The two Catherines’
Apart from the respect granted a production featuring two major French movie stars (Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot), Martin Provost’s The Midwife hasn’t gotten a whole lot of enthusiasm from national reviewers in America. The two Catherines, all by themselves, are sufficient reason for seeing this film. But I’d like to suggest that there are a few more very good reasons, including the following:
• The soap-opera plot—a dying woman (Deneuve) seeks out the daughter (Frot) of a man with whom she once had a lengthy extra-marital romance—comes off as a quietly engrossing drama, thanks to Provost’s calmly sympathetic direction of the two stars and a talented supporting cast.
• Olivier Gourmet, the amiably odd-looking actor featured in many of the Dardenne brothers’ films, is on hand here as a rambunctiously unromantic romantic lead.
• Deneuve’s bravura work as an unrepentant and faux-elegant pleasure seeker is rowdy elegance of an uncommonly high quality.
• The film’s French title is Sage femme, which is the term the French use for what English speakers call a midwife. A simple literal translation of “sage femme” would be “wise woman,” and one of the interesting possibilities with Provost’s film is that while the Frot character is the proficient and gainfully employed “midwife” in the story, both women serve as metaphorical midwives in each others’ lives. And both are wise in their respective interrelated ways.
• Last, Deneuve’s Beatrice is the obvious charmer in the piece, but Frot’s Claire is the first to impress us—by way of her devotion and gentle intensity in the maternity ward.