Review / ‘The Midwife’ (M) ****

TWO women in their fifties. Vegetarian, teetotaller, single-mother Claire (Catherine Frot) lives comfortably if not lavishly on her midwife’s salary in a provincial French city. Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) lives on a financial knife edge, settling debts with card-game winnings, drinking and smoking too much, enjoying rare steaks and pommes frites, not prepared to adjust lifestyle to acknowledge major health issues.

It’s three decades since they last saw each other. And now, a letter from Beatrice suggesting that they renew their friendship has thrown Claire into a loop.

As a teenager, Claire watched her swimming-champion father betraying her mother by having an affair with teenaged Beatrice. Claire’s life has been one of service. Beatrice’s has been one of confronting challenges that might intrude on her joie de vivre.

Writer/director Martin Provost’s film follows the two women as they confront each other in what, for Claire, is uncomfortable boredom. Telling Claire that she is dying from cancer, Beatrice wants company during her last days.

Provost’s screenplay makes assumptions about progress toward reconciliation, requiring both women to shift their ground for reasons less well defined than they might have been. No matter. The story unfolds leisurely, with gentle humour, en route to a finale that respects credibility.

Frot doesn’t rely on beauty to sustain Claire in difficult moments. When she lets her hair down and applies a bright-red lipstick in one sequence, she delights the eye, but that’s not her main contribution.

While Deneuve at age 74 has thickened a little, her ability to dominate the view has diminished but little since her heyday.

Olivier Gourmet as Claire’s truckie boyfriend adds credibility. And minor characters deliver charming vignettes of life in a rural/urban environment.

At Palace Electric

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