If a lifetime of the pursuit of pleasure and literally running away from your problems results in a life lived like that of Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), then more people should try it. Often cast as an elegant, aloof madame, Deneuve seems to be having rather a lot of fun as the bohemian, outspoken, self-indulgent Béatrice in Sage Femme, giving her a welcome chance to play against type. The midwife of the title is Claire (Catherine Frot), whose ordered and purposeful life is going through an upheaval with the maternity ward she works in about to be closed and converted into a private clinic. She is suspiciously curious when she receives a call from Béatrice, her father’s former mistress, who wants to meet with her.
Béatrice’s motives are immediately laid out. She is quite possibly dying from a brain tumour and simply wishes to reconnect with her past, with a happier chapter in her life, and this includes reacquainting herself with Claire, who she knew as a child. It’s a motivation that could easily be dismissed as a jarring cinematic arbitrariness, existing simply for the sake of the plot, but the performances of les deux Catherines (appearing together in a film for the first time) make it seem entirely plausible. As Claire, Frot could easily be maudlin and even dull, but the character awakens as she gradually (and at first, grudgingly) accepts the arrival of Béatrice back in her life.
Sage Femme is a movie about changes, and new beginnings. The fact that Claire is a midwife is a wonderfully simple way of pointing this out, and the scenes of childbirth are beautifully depicted. Writer/Director Martin Provost’s film is not going to change the world (and nor does it plan to) but as an understated portrait of two women at crossroads in their lives, Sage Femme is a thoughtful pleasure.
Sage Femme (The Midwife) does not have a UK release date yet.
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