“Not much happens in The Midwife, but its depth and texture make this a moving film.” Cath Clarke,TimeOut London , July, 2017. I concur that the film has great depth and texture but I disagree that “nothing happens”. It does not take a lot of action for things to happen in people’s lives.
Above all else, this film is about ordinary people facing various degrees of trauma in their lives. The film has been tagged as “Catherine vs. Catherine” for its two French leading actresses – Catherine Frot – Claire- as a midwife at a maternity center and Catherine Deneuve as Frot’s father’s ex-mistress, Beatrice, who suddenly re-appears 30 years after walking out on Claire’s father resulting in his suicide. Supporting the ordinary people theme, the film complies with The Bechdel Test which requires that: (1) the story has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.
The story’s range is from birth to death with the in-between challenges. We get to view the miracle of birth several times, some normal but some have Claire using her experience to overcome dangerous circumstances and turn it into a smooth delivery. In one touching scene, a young mother who has had no pre-natal care is suddenly recognized by Claire as a child that she also helped deliver. We soon learn the reason for Beatrice’s return is that she is facing the end of life. She has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. For Claire, the in-betwen challenge is dealing with her son who has decided to leave medical shool and is thinking about becoming a midwife. Shortly after school ends, his girlfriend gets pregnant. Both he and his girlfriend are happy and believe that they ready to deal with the future. Claire also has to overcome some feelings about men. By the end of the film she is able to enjoy life with her new boyfriend because he asks nothing of her.
For Claire, being a midwife is more than a job – it is a real calling at which she is superb. Her center is being closed in favor of a high-tech baby factory which minimizes the human element in the birthing experience. Claire resists and turns down all offers to move with the rest of the staff. This fits with the rest of her approach to life. She supposedly doesn’t drink, is a vegetarian growing her own vegetables, and does little for her appearance. Beatrice is a gambling, lush. She supports herself by playing poker in a back room game, begins breakfast with a glass of Red, doesn’t put on airs but lives lavishly. Beatrice can be vulgar with the best, but shows a reall tender caring side.
There are so many family and love oriented themes in this film each with a point and counter-point. Lot’s to analyze, lots to talk about. The one weak point, if it is, would be the ending. Viewers are left to fill in the blanks and create their own story endings. In this instance such is very unsatisfying.
Acting is superb. The two Catherines play off of each other as if they have lived together forever. They play their respective roles convincingly and with true emotion. When on camera togethr, the repartee is snappy, humorous with touches of real sadness. Editing is slightly choppy at times but closely follows the rule to always save the emotion.