Maybe it’s the requisite – and, almost admirably, sustained – French belief in auteurship that makes it such a quandary to consider precisely what audience The Midwife might be aimed at. Soapy, slapdash and cinematically ramshackle, it boasts fine performances from Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot but does so at the expense of anything more than simply being the otherwise relatively low sum of its parts.
The story concerns Frot as Claire, the eponymous midwife, who’s paid a visit out of the blue by her late father’s mistress, Béatrice. Far from a social call however, Béatrice reveals she has in fact been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is facing her impending demise, Claire meanwhile is facing the end of her tenure at her cherished hospital, the next logical step in her career being the move to a larger more cutting edge birthing facility she can’t quite face up to committing herself to. Luckily, a distraction soon emerges in the form of fellow allotment-farmer Paul, and, before long, romance begins to blossom between the pair.
Lacking much in the way of storytelling coherence – one storyline appears to have little to do with the next – The Midwife lives and dies on the performances of Deneuve and Frot, each of whom give it an admirable strike, yet both suffering under the transparent and flimsy material afforded them. Deneuve, in particular, goes for a full-blown hairspray-and-harrow performance, yet atop material that simply has no weight, comes across oddly farcical as a result.
Director Provost strives to wrap it all tightly together with a stylistic art house cinema ribbon, but – with a story as thin as he has – can’t seem to disguise the visible air pockets throughout. Would that it were so easy to simply rely on the adage of “style over substance” to sweep the crumbs of The Midwife’s poorer quality under the rug, but Provost brings too little to the tale to grant us such an easy dismissal.
The Midwife is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, July 7th; rated 12A. Check out the trailer below.