Not only does this French drama pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours, it also goes to show that the ordinary lives of ordinary people can be the most moving thing to watch.
It’s powered by a pair of outstanding performances from two of France’s finest actresses, Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve, appearing together in an arthouse face-off. Frot is the midwife of the title, Claire, who’s exactly the person you’d want to deliver your baby – she’s calm, experienced and a well of empathy, although outside work she’s a little shut off emotionally. Deneuve is her ex-stepmother Béatrice, who crashes backs into Claire’s life 30 years after she walked out on her dad. An old lush, Béatrice gambles for a living, wears leopard print, drinks a glass of red with her omelette at breakfast and has a supply of bitchy one-liners up her sleeve (‘You always did look older than your age’). But she’s also refreshingly down-to-earth, off-handedly telling Claire to put her in a bin liner and chuck her in the Seine after she’s gone.
Not much happens in ‘The Midwife’, but its depth and texture make this a moving film about families, time passing and shared history – and the handful of scenes in the maternity unit where Claire works, five or six little miracles of birth, somehow add to its sense of a life as mysterious and precious.