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The Midwife

Starring Catherine Deneueve and Catherine Frot

The second career of Catherine Deneuve is one of the ongoing pleasures of Western cinema. Here’s an actress who became famous for being icy and beautiful, and half a century later, she is down-to-earth, warm and unguarded in a way that makes you think that this is what she must have been like that all along. So the later career is not an epilogue or some less-interesting other chapter. Young Deneuve was the question, but old Deneuve is the answer, and at 73, she keeps opening up and challenging herself, as in The Midwife, in which she is paired with France’s other great Catherine, Catherine Frot. Frot plays the title character, Claire, a midwife. Warm and giving in her work, she is otherwise withdrawn and distant, reluctant to be lured into any emotional contact. And then she gets a phone call from Béatrice (Deneuve), who was the love of her father’s life, some 30 years before. The Midwife was written and directed by Martin Provost (Séraphine, Violette), and it’s easy to see how the film might have gone wrong in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. Beatrice has a lust for adventure, as well as for alcohol, cigarettes and red meat, and her life has been a series of romantic liaisons. She knows how to have a good time and Claire does not, and the easiest formulation would have been to have Beatrice’s influence result in a blossoming of Claire’s spirit. That is not entirely different from what actually happens in The Midwife, but it feels different, because there is nothing clichéd here. Béatrice is no wise woman. She is impulsive, needy and something of a mess, someone who has been improvising her way through life. And Claire is no big stiff. An American movie would have found it necessary to decide whose way is right or wrong, but this is a French movie, so what we get is a closely observed, intelligently imagined and realized presentation of contrasting personalities. Frot is superb (as always), giving us a full sense of Claire’s inner life despite the reticence of the character’s outward manner. The key is the passion that Claire invests in her work. Frot is telling us that this is a woman of feeling, so that when Claire does start to thaw, Frot doesn’t need a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation to make it real. As for Deneuve, she is a joy, with her funny combination of natural dignity and utter confusion, and surface cynicism that yet loves every moment – the most fun, wise and jolly person in any room she enters, yet capable of the sudden plunge into pained and deep emotion. If you want to fall in love with Catherine Deneuve, don’t start with her youth. Start with her here, in her 70s, and then work your way back. – Mick LaSalle, The San Francisco Chronicle


No screenings currently scheduled.

Directed by: 
Martin Provost
Running Time: 
120 minutes
French with English subtitles
Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Frot, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Mylène Demongeot
Official site: 

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