We’re all rather fond of routine, and you get to a certain age in life when you’ve settled on your friends, you don’t really need any more. We can fear the return of that old companion, somebody from a former life, somebody you feel there’s a reason you lost contact with. It’s this notion that Martin Provost’s The Midwife thrives on, and while we feel the anxiety and impatience of our protagonist in this endeavour when her life is disrupted – the overriding sentiment to take away is that change is not always such a bad thing after all.
Catherine Frot plays the aforementioned role, the experienced, compassionate midwife Claire Breton, who returns home from a nightshift to a voicemail – from Béatrice Sobolevski (Catherine Deneuve), an old friend of Claire’s, who eventually went to have a relationship with her father, a successful Olympic swimmer. The reason for her sudden reappearance is because Béatrice is dying, and wants to find some closure on a chapter in her life she still feels is unfinished – but Claire could do without having this eccentric, melodramatic woman back in her life – though pity takes precedence and she decides to show her support. Add to that the news her son (Quentin Dolmaire) is expecting a child, and her neighbour (Olivier Gourmet) has feelings for her – and it seems her straightforward existence, which she appreciates, is suddenly rather complex.
A flawed endeavour, certainly, which grows somewhat tedious in the middle stages, but remains engaging thanks to the lead performances from the talented Catherines. Frot in particular stands out as the changes to her demeanour as the narrative progresses are subtle, as she seems to internalised and adverse to this change of pace, quite cold and uninviting – and slowly she starts to open up, to let people in, to let her guard down. Deneuve is excellent as always, but any such commendation is more aimed at the character rather than the actress, as a wonderfully crafted role who you completely fall for, and while initially her quirkiness is off-putting, we, and much like Claire, become endeared to her unusual ways and overstated approach to life, and her unpredictable insouciance and carefree attitude to life rubs off on us. This is exactly the sort of role you would have hoped, thirty or forty years ago, Denueve would be taking on at this stage in her career.
Regrettably there’s not a particularly strong narrative in this piece, as a unfulfilling story that doesn’t have enough of a dramatic core. That’s not to say every film should, minimalism if often craved for in cinema – but in this instance it just feels as though we’re lacking a certain spark, a spark the leading duo deserve.