Midwife – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Martin Provost
Writers: Martin Provost (dialogue), Martin Provost (screenplay)
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Frot, Olivier Gourmet
Claire (Catherine Font) is a dedicated midwife who works in a small Parisian hospital which is under threat from various contemporary pressures. She is passionate about her job which is the most important thing by far in her everyday life. Her other obsession is her allotment. She has a medical student son, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire) whom she sees occasionally. Out of the blue Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) makes contact with her. Claire is far from pleased. Genevieve was her father’s mistress who was in his day a very fine swimmer and good looking to boot. Genevieve has lived life to the full and solely for her own enjoyment. She still smokes, she is almost never without a glass in her hand, she gambles and has lived to the limit of her income and beyond. But her luck is running out; she is short of cash and has made contact with Claire as she needs help as she has had a cancer diagnosis and has no one else to turn to.
Genevieve, who is in her seventies, is Parisian brassy rather than elegant. Deneuve portrays her as if part of her own inner being is encased within Genevieve. It is an impressive performance. Font is also magnificent but it is much more difficult to dominate the screen if the allotted part is one of decency, hard work and doing the right thing. Claire is the antithesis of the brash Genevieve. There is however still a romantic spark within her which the neighbouring allotment owner, Paul (Olivier Gourmet), a truck driver, manages to ignite. Simon’s main contribution to the plot is his good looks which resemble closely those of his grandfather the swimmer. In a memorable clip Provost by the use of old family photographs cleverly demonstrates the striking similarity in looks between Simon and his grandfather. Genevieve is unsettled, albeit briefly, by the similarity.
Provost (Seraphine 2008, Violette 2013) not only directs but wrote the script. He passes with flying colours the Bechdel test. The conversations between Claire and Genevieve are not dominated by men. Deneuve and Font elevate the story into a reflection by both women of their lives so far and the different paths which lie ahead. They and Provost steer it away from sentimentality and make a fine reflection on the complexities which everyone faces towards the end of their life or their chosen career. It is a fine, thoughtful piece of film making.