Sage Femme (The Midwife) – Martin Provost

Director Martin Provost continues to focus on female relationships in his latest film Sage Femme which brings together for the first time two of France’s most seasoned actresses – Catherine Deneuve (La Tete Haute) and Catherine Frot (Marguerite). After wowing critics with Séraphine in 2008, Provosts’s Sage Femme is a disappointingly dull film which lacks a strong central storyline. Both Catherines work overtime to breathe life into the unremarkable tale of a middle-aged woman Claire (Frot) who is thrown together with her deceased-father’s ex mistress Béatrice (Deneuve) 30 years after she suddenly disappeared from their lives. The story unfolds against the backdrop of the closure of the maternity hospital where Claire, the sage-femme of title, has worked for many years.  But this nod to the current political landscape is never developed further.  While Deneuve and Frot square off in a battle of wills, Olivier Gourmet (Chocolat) comes in and steals the show as Claire’s new boyfriend Paul.  Séraphine swept the board at the 2009 César ceremony winning 7 awards, yet it seems unlikely Sage Femme will enjoy the same success.
Claire, single mum to  Simon (Quentin Dolmaire Trois Souvenirs de Ma Jeunesse) works long hard hours at the local maternity hospital which is on the verge of closing down. The routine of her dreary life is disturbed when she receives a telephone call from her late-father’s mistress who is back in France after a 30-year absence. Béatrice has a serious health problem and has no-one else to turn to for help but Claire. Reluctantly Claire agrees to meet Béatrice and eventually offers her a place to stay. But Béatrice has no intention of changing her way of life to fit in with Claire’s humdrum existence.
Deneuve and Frot make formidable adversaries. Frot is the long-suffering middle-aged woman who expects nothing and receives nothing in return from her entourage. Deneuve excels as the selfish, overbearing Béatrice who makes her living gambling in seedy, restaurant back-rooms playing cards with a bunch of dodgy men. It’s a nice touch and adds a comic note to see the normally elegant and poised Deneuve completely at home in such ‘bad’ company. But it’s not enough and Sage Femme, which translates in French into ‘well -behaved’ woman is a suitable name for a film which fails to take any risks.

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