Film Review: The Midwife

The Catherines Deneueve and Frot have a nice rapport, but that’s about all that can be said of this slight soap opera that posits terminal illness, suicide and the wonder of birth as its uncertain claims to any depth.
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In Martin Provost ‘s The Midwife, Catherine Frot has the title role of Claire, who extracts bawling infants from her charges at an old school maternity hospital which is facing a shaky future. Catherine Deneuve plays Beatrice, the free-spirited mistress of Claire’s father, a glamorous former competitive swimming champion who has just committed suicide. After walking out on the supposedly idyllic life shared with him and young Claire on Paris’ Boulevard St. Germain, she reappears in Claire‘s life, decidedly bowed down by life, gambling debts and a just-diagnosed brain tumor.

Deneuve obviously enjoys herself here as a wine-guzzling, red-meat-eating libertine, running through men and high living like a shot, as opposed to Claire‘s buttoned-up, by-the-book attitude toward life (not helped by a hostile mother her father married out of duty when she became pregnant). They circle each other warily at first, with a resentful Claire laying much of the blame for Daddy’s distraught death on this Jezebel in an opulent Yves Saint Laurent wardrobe (which Deneuve, a muse of the late designer, always seems to be sporting—like Joan Crawford and her ubiquitous shoulder pads, no matter what the role or how financially strapped her character may be).

Frot, a solidly journeyman of a player, who was so good in The Page Turner, Haute Cuisine and far superior to hammy Meryl Streep in Marguerite, the French version of the Florence Foster Jenkins story, does what she can with the basically uninteresting Claire, who is rather too much of a paragon of good behavior and a martinet regarding healthful living and what foods to avoid. To perhaps outfit her with more interest, she is given one of those dream lovers Alan Bates and Kris Kristofferson used to play in films like An Unmarried Woman and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Paul (Olivier Gourmet) is an amiably sexy and sensitive bear of a truck driver and gardening expert forever bringing Nature’s bounty to Claire’s table (fresh radishes!), as well as caviar for special romantic picnics—because being an international truck driver, he knows about more sophisticated fare as well. She also has a son, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), who is a cipher, apart from an annoying obsession with having kids early with his equally callow fiancée.

You can probably glean from all of this that The Midwife is not exactly an earth-shaker of a film, residing in that soapy, comfy “art house” category ladies and gents of a certain age might want to partake of after a strenuous afternoon of shopping at Bergdorf Goodman. It is fortunate that the two Catherines do manage to strike an effective chemistry with each other, playing polar opposites in every way, and just hearing the terminally ill Deneuve, whose gambling pays off in one scene, voraciously order calf’s liver and a tabu Cote du Beaune does provide a certain frisson.

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