The Midwife

Catherines the Great

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The French-language title of director Martin Provost’s latest femme-centric drama is Sage Femme, a term that technically means midwife, as in the medical profession, but also literally describes a “well-behaved woman.” The double meaning is particularly apt when applied to the film’s heroine, Claire—a single mom in her 50s whose spick-and-span life is thrown amuck by the arrival of Beatrice, a woman who is Claire’s polar opposite in every way, but who could possibly change her for the better.

Claire is played by Catherine Frot and Beatrice by Catherine Deneuve, and The Midwife could also be titled Catherine vs. Catherine, so much is it about these two terrific French actors squaring off onscreen, with Frot’s zipped-up and uber-orderly Claire battling Deneuve’s unhinged and disorderly Beatrice. The film works best when the Catherines are allowed to occupy the same frame, a bit less so when it ventures into sappy social realism territory and overindulges in Gregoire Hetzel’s score.

Provost is best known for his 2008 Cesar-winning biopic Seraphine, about the brilliant and troubled outsider artist from the turn of the last century. He also directed a portrait of the feminist writer and Simone de Beauvoir contemporary Violette Leduc. Both movies offered prodigious roles for their female leads, and The Midwife is clearly structured as a showcase for its pair of stars. It allows Frot, who was deliciously over-the-top in last year’s Marguerite (the better French version of the Florence Foster Jenkins story), to temper things down impressively, while letting the usually well-tempered Deneuve be a total badass as a character who has partied hearty her whole life and refuses to slow down as she nears the end of it.

Opening with a live birth, which Claire administers in her typically cool fashion, the film quickly gets to the point when she receives a call from Beatrice, who was a lover of Claire’s dad several decades ago and has dropped in to find out how he’s doing. We soon learn—although the script takes some time to delve out key bits of information—that Beatrice ruined Claire’s life when she skipped town and broke her father’s heart, which resulted in his suicide. We also learn that the 70-something Beatrice has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and doesn’t have more than a year to live.

Provost has definitely stacked the melodramatic deck high, and a less-skilled director would have spun a telenovela out of such material. But this is much more of a sharp and nuanced character study than a soap opera, and the story explores how each woman reacts to life’s sudden shifts, with Claire slowly but surely won over by Beatrice’s reckless ways, and Beatrice pretty much being Beatrice until the very end.

Their early encounters in a Parisian cafe are moments to savor, especially the way Beatrice orders the most fatty meal on the menu and guzzles it down with a fine glass of Bordeaux. She’s the kind of woman who makes a scene wherever she shows up—a self-made drama queen whose fairytale life is meant to conceal her modest background, and Deneuve expertly plays her with a mix of rambunctiousness and emotional aplomb, turning the unpredictable Beatrice into the film’s true heroine.

Frot is given more of a standard route to follow, blossoming from a serious, socially hermetic mom into a woman who rediscovers life’s joys at a time when most people are comfortably settling into pre-retirement. Her romance with Paul (Olivier Gourmet), a fun-loving truck driver who tends a neighboring garden, heads pretty much where one would expect and is one of the film’s more obvious plot points. On the other hand, Claire’s connection to her only child, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), offers up some surprises, including a lovely sequence where they dig up old slides of Claire’s father and the resemblance between the two men is hilariously uncanny.

But it’s really the touchy relationship between Claire and Beatrice that fuels much of The Midwife, and Provost has once again proven to be a sensitive and sure-handed director of what used to be called “women’s films,” with this one somewhat of a cross between Douglas Sirk and the Dardennes. 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.

ICU Roof #2
More Film...
LA 92
A cautionary tale

Often, documentaries about historic events prompt the question, “Why now?” Sadly, that will never be asked about Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin’s searing LA 92, which arrives on the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots to address an America more conscious than ever of the problems…

more »
The Indians Who Rocked the World

In the fascinating documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, the great jazz critic Gary Giddins says, “The one group that hasn’t really been investigated in terms of their contribution [to music history] is the Native Americans.”

This new film, co-directed by Catherine…

more »
Blade Runner 2049
Man or replicant?

In 1982, when replicants hadn’t yet become a Hollywood business model, Blade Runner failed to do what Warner Brothers hoped it would: make a pile of money.

It succeeded, however, in acquiring the reputation of a modern science-fiction classic. Director Ridley Scott’s 2019-set story…

more »
Book Group Mixers

5:30pm|Village Books

Bringing history into sharp focus


Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

U.S. Citizenship Class

6:00pm|Lynden Library

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Summer Bike Stories

7:00pm|Cafe Velo

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Village Books
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Grand Opening and Open House

11:00am|Social Fabric

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Clean Eating

2:00pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|downtown Bellingham

Art Night

5:00pm|SpringHill Suites by Marriott

12 Minutes Max Auditions

5:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Amber Sky CD Release Party

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

6:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Poetry Party

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre


7:00pm|Village Books

USA Dance


Thriller Dance Class

7:00pm|Moles Farewell Tributes

Halloween Movie Night

7:00pm|BHS Performing Arts Center

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Holding the Light

8:00pm|Honey Moon

Village Books Trove
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Lynden Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Terrell Creek

Scarecrow Stuffing Contest

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Landscape stewards work party

9:00am|Chuckanut Center

Pumpkins 4 Pajamas

9:00am|Lakeway Fred Meyer

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Pumpkin Patch on Rails

9:00am|Wickersham Station

Port race ponders a wasted waterfront


Everyday Superheroes 5K

10:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Blaine Oktoberfest


Community Cider Pressing

10:00am|Chuckanut Center

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Enlightened Caterpillar

10:30am|Village Books

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Crown Jewel Wilderness

11:00am|Western Washington University Bookstore

Mushrooms gone wild


Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Conquering Writer's BLock

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Winter Birds of Whatcom County

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Undersea Bubble Fantasia

2:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Brew on the Slough

5:00pm|Maple Hall

Community Library Celebration

5:00pm|North Fork Library

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Bellingham Sportsplex

Seeds of Change

6:30pm|Edison Granary

The Great Unconformity

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Symphony's Gala Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Whose Live Anyway?

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Original Comedy Night

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Trove Bellingham Farmer’s Market CWWarrenMiller Village Books