SAGE FEMME (THE MIDWIFE) (France 2017) ***
Directed by Martin Provost
A film with babies being brought into the world? One cannot imagine a more euphoric subject.
Martin Provost is a French film director not that well known in North America as his films, as is the case of many French films, do not get distribution. It is a sad thing as his film SERAPHINE that won the Cesar for Best Film and for him sharing the Best Screenplay never got here either. I was fortunate to catch it at the Toronto International Film Festival and it is good to see a film of his SAGE FEMME finally released.
It is nothing more than spectacular to see two of my favourite French actress together in the same film. Both Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve (the great Catherines) - and I can watch them forever. Frot (the younger one), allows Deneuve to take the spotlight whenever they appear on screen together as obvious in the restaurant scene where Deneuve freaks out while Frot remains composed.
Claire (Frot) is a midwife at a Paris hospital. In her 40’s, her life has become monotonous and routine even though she has the exciting task of delivering babies. Into her life suddenly arrives Beartrice (Deneuve) who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Though dying, she wants to live. The two are complete opposites. While Claire is a vegetarian and no-drinker, Beartrice downs bottles of wine while indulging in red meat. Beatrice is the woman Claire’s father left her mother for. Beatrice wants closure - to make things right. Claire initially wants noting to do with her but eventually succumbs. Frot and Deneuve exhibit good chemistry playing contrasting confrontational personalities. It is this chemistry that makes the film work, despite the simple plot covered by lame subplots like Claire’s son (dropping out of school; his pregnant girlfriend), Beatrice’s gambling and other bad habits and the hospital affairs.
As the subject is the midwife who delvers babies at a hospital, the film necessarily shows several of the deliveries of the just born. It is very obvious that director Provost always hides the side of the bay and mother so that the umbilical cord cannot be seen, or that would mean the delivery of a real baby.
Though Deneuve is in her senior years, Provost does not even for once fall into the trap of cliched films about old farts. Deneuve’s old character is portrayed as a mother dying of a brain tumour. There is no scene of her reliving her young days, or trying to have sex or fall in love again.
Provost succeeds in the balancing comedy and drama. Deneuve provides most of the comedy and Frot the drama.
The film suffers from a predictable plot. It does not take a genius to guess that Beartrice will teach Claire how to live life and that Claire will eventually succumb to the charms of her suitor (Olivier Gourmet).
SAGE FEMME is a pleasant enough melodrama that will not win any awards but still should be seen for its two stars Denueve and Frot.