Even though The Midwife—the latest from writer/director Martin Provost—opens with a live birth, the story revolves around an off-screen death, with Claire (Catherine Frot) at the center of both. She is a midwife, and we come to know the type of woman she is by watching her make her rounds delivering babies all day and all night. Fastidious and capable, it’s no surprise when we find out she doesn’t drink, smoke, or stray outside the line.
Then a rupture comes: Claire’s father has committed suicide. Claire deals with it, but she feels an obligation to inform Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), her father’s mistress whom she hasn’t spoken to in 30 years.
Béatrice is Claire’s exact opposite. She smokes, drinks, and gambles easily—probably loves just the same—still the news of her old flame’s death rattles her. Béatrice looks for solace in Claire’s arms, but that only complicates their strained relationship.
Then another rupture comes: Béatrice has a brain tumor. With nowhere else to go and no one to turn to, she lands in Claire’s lap. “I feel like I’ve made a mistake somewhere,” Claire sighs, but only after she learns of a third rupture: she is going to be a grandmother.
The Midwife is a movie of interiors. Only a dozen shots are set outdoors—a handful of them are used to underline specific tangents the narrative doesn’t have space for. Instead, The Midwife places its focus on Claire and Béatrice. And like the babies Claire pulls into the big, cold, scary world, Béatrice will pull Claire out of her shell and into this world; a world of love and pain, life and death, laughter and misery.
It takes some time for The Midwife to get there, and when it does, it does so quietly. But with Deneuve and Frot as traveling companions, at least you know the destination will be worth it.
The Midwife is in limited release.