THE Midwife is a delightful hors d’ouevre of a film. It is both gentle and amusing although some will argue that it lacks a certain gravitas. More amuse bouche but appetising all the same.
Directed by Martin Provost (Violette, Seraphine), it features Catherine Frot (Marguerite, Haute Cuisine) as a calm professional midwife whose somewhat mundane life is suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of the mistress of her late father, a sassy (and still sexy) Catherine Deneuve (Belle de Jour, Indochine, Standing Tall. et al).
Midwife Claire Breton, a single mother, is calmness personified and runs her life with military like precision. A non-drinker, she cycles to work where she works the night shift. When she is not working or sleeping, she quietly tends to her allotment alongside the River Seine. She is more interested in vegetables than men. Work, no play.
But this ordered state of affairs is disrupted by Deneuve’s Beatrice Sobolevski. She is a force of nature who has more vices than virtues – the antithesis of Claire. She loves her men, cigarettes, wine and red meat – preferably all at the same time. She also enjoys gambling even if she does not have the means to fund it.
Claire is initially hostile but slowly and surely Beatrice wins her over. The connection is made stronger by the fact that Beatrice has a brain tumour which must be operated on, resulting in Claire asserting her authority over her father’s former lover. She helps nurse Beatrice while not missing any opportunity to enforce her moral code on her former nemesis.
As the relationship builds, Claire mellows, helped by the arrival of the perky and self-assured Paul Baron (Olivier Gourmet) in the adjoining allotment. Although she initially resists his offer of potatoes, the free spirited truck driver is nothing but persistent. Frolicking ensues – in Claire’s shed. Gentle to begin with, a little more robust (and amusing to observe) as time goes on.
The remaining part of the film’s jigsaw is Claire’s son Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), an accomplished swimmer like his grandfather was. He is having serious doubts about continuing with his training to become a doctor (not helped by the fact that his girlfriend is pregnant).
Claire keeps Beatrice well away from him but as the ice maiden of a midwife melts she lets down her guard. When Simon and Beatrice meet, the occasion is a magic moment as their love of a man now departed from this world bonds them.
Apart from the relationships between midwife, drop out son, truck driver and mistress, there is a sub-plot – the imminent closure of Claire’s maternity unit. It is a department she has devoted her life to, as evidenced when a young mother gives birth and informs her she was delivered by Claire 28 years previously.
Will she move to the new sparkling hospital with all the latest medical gizmos? Or is it time to reassess?
The film is littered with stellar performances. As expected, Frot and Deneuve deliver in garden spades. Frot is all frowns and worry lines while Deneuve exudes a combination of mischief and sex.
Yet it is Gourmet (Central Station, Le Fils) who surprisingly sparkles the most. His Baron – a male version of Beatrice – is all smiles, cheek and naughtiness who likes a tipple (and a rumble and tumble in Claire’s shed). A winning performance.
As a story, The Midwife is somewhat contrived. But if you want cheering up and would like to see a triumvirate of cinematic talent in one sitting, this is a film for you. Yes, lightweight. But nourishing all the same.
See it now – or wait for it to come out on DVD and consume with a glass of Viognier at your side.
One final thought: what actually happened to Beatrice at the end? Maybe only the River Seine knows. Or maybe not.
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The Midwife – 4/5
Martin Provost: Director
Catherine Deneuve: Beatrice Sobolevski
Catherine Frot: Claire Breton
Olivier Gourmet: Paul Baron
Quentin Dolmaire: Simon