Sunday, July 16, 2017

Catherines the great--Deneuve and Frot--in Martin Provost's melodrama, THE MIDWIFE

TrustMovies can only surmise that the fine French writer/director Martin Provost, who has over the past decade given us three wonderful films (Séraphine, The Long Falling and Violette), must have decided by hook or by crook to break through more thoroughly to the French (or maybe international) arthouse/mainstream audience -- his vehicle being a new movie entitled THE MIDWIFE (Sage femme). To that end, if indeed it was this movie's raison d'être, M. Provost, shown below, has corralled two of France's greatest actresses to play the leading roles: that icon perennial, Catherine Deneuve and the perhaps lesser-known but equally talented and multi-award-winning Catherine Frot.

Ms Deneuve guarantees an international audience, while Ms Frot (you can read all my many mentions and reviews of her work by clicking here) should easily bring in the more sophisticated audience that demands top-notch acting above all else. While Frot, shown below (of Marguerite, Haute Cuisine, Chaos), does not disappoint (she's far too professional, alert, alive and honest to ever do that), it's Deneuve who steals the movie from under her co-star by taking on another of those blowsey, full-blown, pull-out-all-the-stops roles (like that of Belle Maman, from 1999, which rather cemented this icon's entry into movie-middle-age) and then running with it to near perfection.

It has been awhile since we've seen Deneuve (shown below) do this, as her recent roles, such as In The Courtyard, On My Way, Standing Tall and In the Name of My Daughter, have demanded more circumspect, tamped down performances. Here she can let loose, while still managing to create a character that's full-bodied, believable and very troubled.

So why, then, does The Midwife end up leaving you feeling as though you've been manipulated by melodrama rather than plunged into actual, organic drama. Despite the fine performances (from the entire cast that includes the likes of Belgian great, Olivier Gourmet, shown below with Frot, and Mylène Demongeot), Provost's screenplay almost always feels overly manipulative and manufactured. The tale has to do with the re-connection, after decades apart, of a woman who works as a midwife (Frot) with an older woman (Deneuve) who was the mistress of the midwife's father.

The connection is made; anger, guilt, pain and all the rest surface expectedly; and...  Yes, you can probably predict the remainder of the film. Oh, the details are specific and may be a bit different here and there, but the basics are mostly standard stuff. Even the political/social points that Provost raises seem awfully typical. The midwife's job is about to disappear, as hospitals grow ever larger and more corporate, while individual worth, together with hands-on caring, become less important. All true, but nothing we have not already seen, properly considered and become depressed over.

So despite the excellent performances and the movie's illustrious provenance, been-there/done-that sets in early and does not unfortunately dissipate. Still, I would not have missed this movie, given how much I've enjoyed Frot, Deneuve and Provost previously -- and neither, mostly likely, will you. But I would suggest you maybe steel yourself for a little disappointment, overall.

From Music Box Films, in French with English subtitles and running 117 minutes, The Midwife opens this Friday, July 21 -- in New York City at The Paris Theatre and the Angelika Film Center, and in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5.  Update: the movie is now available to view via Amazon Prime.

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