Offering plum roles to Catherines Frot and Catherine Deneuve, The Midwife is a minor-key crowd pleaser about friendship, forgiveness and rolling with the punches.
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Not much happens in The Midwife, but its depth and texture make this a moving film about families, time passing and shared history – and the handful of scenes in the maternity unit where Claire works, five or six little miracles of birth, somehow add to its sense of a life as mysterious and precious.
The bothersome and irritating thing about the way The Midwife is written is that we keep hearing detail after detail and story after story about the shared history between Claire and Béatrice, but we never get a solid idea of what that history was.
If not for its performances, the film would belong in the category of Hallmark Channel tearjerkers.
Because it is a French film, or rather the kind of French film that wants to serve its sentimentality with a dollop of prestige, The Midwife doesn’t offer an entirely shameless version of the “dying free spirit imbues uptight caretaker with a new lust for life” scenario.
The Midwife has two things going for it: Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve. There’s no disputing the quality of acting in this film, at least insofar as the leads are concerned. Unfortunately, almost everything else in Martin Provost’s staid character study falls considerably short of the bar set by the two Catherines.
If the plot turns out to be a convenience, the pleasure lies in what the co-stars bring to it.
It’s definitely treacly in places and not exactly reinventing the wheel, but the two fine performances at its heart are more than worth it.
Béatrice is perhaps the polar opposite of what we think about when we think Deneuve, and yet, as with all the other eccentrics she’s played, the actress grounds her through an otherworldly grace and humanity.
Provost’s movie jolts to life whenever its two great Catherines are sharing the screen, whether driving each other crazy or collapsing in tears.