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Thread: THE MIDWIFE/SAGE FEMME (Martin Provost 2017)

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    Jul 2002
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    THE MIDWIFE/SAGE FEMME (Martin Provost 2017)



    Two formidable ladies

    Martin Provost's new movie The Midwife celebrates midwifery, and is also the tale of a transformative encounter between two women at a critical moment in their lives. Claire (Catherine Frot) is approached by Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve) after thirty years of silence, summoning her to the fabulous old apartment where she is squatting in Paris, loaned to her by a Lebanese gambling buddy.

    This is also the first encounter ever of two of France's most formidable and beloved film actresses; and perhaps, ultimately, it is primarily that. The Midwife is an enjoyable film to watch, but its distinctions and its lessons are as over-pondered and forced as its scenes are spontaneous.

    This meeting is not very welcome to Claire: Béatrice left Claire's father suddenly with no forwarding address and the pain of it caused his suicide. But now Béatrice - who didn't know this - wants to make amends. She also needs help. She has brain cancer: her days are numbered. She has no friends, only gambling partners and friendly barmen. Despite herself the good Claire winds up caring for Béatrice. After all she is a practitioner of the healing arts. And in documentary-style scenes we see Claire assist at numerous accouchements at the modest, soon-to-close suburban hospital where she has worked for decades. Somehow these seem to be real babies, really being born, "performing" in scenes with Catherine Frot (who took a midwifery course to prepare). How do they do that? This wholesome aspect is also distracting in the film.

    The contrast between the severe, moral, uptight Claire and the loose, fun-loving, devil-may-care Béatrice would be too generic and obvious for words, were it not for the actors. Deneuve exudes elegance and lived-in-ness with every scene. Frot is less attractive and Claire a less appealing personality but she earns respect. Both are a little too-too, and their transformation and coming-together too easy and thorough, particularly Claire's (Béatrice's beauty is she will never give in). Claire has had no man - she's raised her medical-student son Simon (the cute Quentin Dolmaire of Desplechin's My Golden Days) on her own - but all of a sudden she has a wonderful man, Paul, a long-distance big rig driver (Olivier Gourmet, wonderful), met as her neighbor at a communal garden. How readily she falls into his arms! How easily she, who is vegetarian and doesn't touch alcohol, starts swigging vodka and spooning down caviar with Paul!

    But here is Deneuve. Her character is a fantasy; it is too wonderful how she goes on drinking, smoking, gambling late at night (and winning a ton of money; then losing), and running around though she says her body is falling apart from the cancer. But Deneuve makes this fantasy come alive, and then some. How glamorous and unsentimental she is as a dying woman!

    One would probably not want to know either of these two ladies. Despite all those babies, Claire is a scold and a meany. (Yet she's such a paragon she has now inspired her son Simon to give up medicine and become a midwife himself.) Béatrice knows how to live it up, and would be fun for a minute, but she is just too unreliable to have as a friend. In his praise for the hard worker and the old healing craft and for the love of life and enjoyment of the things of the flesh Provost, who also wrote the script, is being obviously preachy. He only gets away with it, for the run-time of the movie, because of his terrific cast.

    Frot already faced off with France's other big female star, Isabelle Huppert. It was Me and My Sister (Alexandra Leclère 2004) where she's the frumpy, naive provincial sister, and Huppert is the snippish, too-sophisticated-to-bear Parisian one. It's equally schematic and false, but wittier and not moralistic. And that made it lighter. However, it's hard to begrudge Provost his moralizing. He is a classic, humanistic director, even if he paints with too broad a brush this time, and this hasn't the richness or originality of several earlier films - particularly the two with Yolande Moreau, Séraphine (2008) and The Long Falling (2011).

    The Midwife/Sage femme, 117 mins., debuted 14 February 2017 at Berlin. It opened 14 February 2017 in France to positive reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.6); opens in the USA starting 21 July; 28 July in Northern California at Landmark Clay, San Francisco, Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley; and Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-27-2017 at 09:32 AM.


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