Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Midwife - beginnings and endings; life, love and death (QFT, 14-26 July)

Martin Provost’s new film The Midwife (French: Sage femme) is a Parisian collision of beginnings and endings.

Béatrice Sobolevski (Catherine Deneuve) was once an important figure in the family life of Claire Breton (Catherine Frot) and reappears after a thirty years absence. Friendless and challenged by a serious health condition her plan to rebuild burnt bridges with Claire’s father is tragically belated. Meanwhile at the same time as Claire’s job in the midwifery clinic is coming to an end – being replaced by an industrial-sized technology-led ‘baby hospital’ – there is a pregnancy in the family and could a tender friendship be blossoming in the allotment?

The two Catherines play very distinct characters. Frot is the dowdy and dedicated medical practitioner who can disarm scared young mums and stays calm in an emergency. She earns little, lives alone and relies on no one. On the other hand, blunt and glamorous Deneuve is not alone by her own choosing. She keeps the company of poker players and drinkers in the bar – both of which explain why her cashflow ebbs and flows like the tide – but knows that those shallow relationships will not sustain her in her frail final days.

While sentimental, this movie is no tearjerker. Midwife is a two hour long film that gently meanders through the plot, only occasionally breaking off from following Claire (Frot) to peek into the activity of the other characters. You’ll see real babies being born, and older people kissing. There are work colleagues, a son and a long-distance lorry driver, but the two Catherines occupy most of the screen time, two older actors given the space to treat audiences without the necessity to introduce young nubile talent to

The premise is simple, but the film is well executed. There’s no wow factor, other than the babies popping out. But there is a sense of satisfaction as Claire develops a renewed sense of purpose, emotionally and physically letting her hair down, while Béatrice more fully comes to terms with the consequences of her past actions and faces up to her mortality.

The Midwife is being screened at the Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 14 until Wednesday 26 July.

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