The Midwife dir. Martin Provost

Claire Breton is surrounded by life. She is an old-school midwife, coaching women in the art of breathing, listening to their bodies, and making birth joyful. She owns a little patch of a vegetable garden on the banks of the Seine, where her tomatoes and lettuces flourish. Her son Simon is about to become a father. But for all this bounty, Claire is frozen in her life, going through the motions of living just to keep moving. She has never quite recovered from her beloved father’s death 30 years ago and has not managed to forge a good relationship with her mother. Enter Beatrice Sobolewski, her father’s former mistress, who abandoned her and her father 30 years ago. Beatrice is on the brink of death – she has a brain tumor and has not long to live. But she is full of life: she drinks, smokes, gambles, eats red meat, and brazenly calls upon old compatriots and strangers to buoy up her penniless life. Inevitably, as Claire and Beatrice reluctantly unite, discover their common humanity and friendship and properly mourn the loss of Antoine, they move toward a happy middle. Beatrice slowly learns to accept her fate and Claire starts to appreciate the fullness of her life. Sage Femme means midwife, but also, literally, “wise woman.” The film celebrates an idea of woman that is utterly practical and unsentimental in her quest to survive. Either of these women would fit in an Almodovar film (down to the lipstick and high heels). A sage femme saves and then pawns her most expensive jewelry when she has to pay hospital bills, protects her heart from treacherous lovers, and hangs on to her career even as its future is doomed to change for the worse. The film is enhanced by its two lead actresses, Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot. Deneuve, a classic face of French cinema, uses her undeniable, powerful glamour and surrounds it with a sailor-on-leave bawdiness that tempers all tendencies toward sentimentality. Similarly, Catherine Frot uses her expressive cheekbones and lips to support the film’s sincerity. The sage Catherines give the film its warmth, humor, and joie de vivre.

Sage Femme (The Midwife), dir. Martin Provost, 117 mins. Curiosa Films, et al, 2017. In French. Opens July 28th in the San Francisco Bay Area.