I often have this fantasy that I live in an alternate universe where films like The Midwife make $125 million dollars on opening weekend. Box Office Mojo can barely keep up, posting breathless articles about all the records the film is breaking. The director and stars get signed to major studio first-look deals. Sequels are planned. Lunchboxes are on sale at Target. Ushers have to keep their distance so as not to have the ending spoiled by the audiences exiting the auditoriums.
But we don’t live in that world. Sadly, most people won’t see The Midwife. I’m not being pessimistic, I’m more stating the depressing fact of the matter. Because this is a movie that everyone should see. It captures the mundanity of everyday miracles, the heartbreak of aging alone and the feeling of being lost in the crowd of your own life better than most, though, if we’re being honest, most movies wouldn’t even take a crack at material this deceptively dark. It’s also that rare film with an ending that gets away with being predictable by being absolutely true to itself.
“I don’t care if I die,” Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) tells us early in the film. “I’ve lived the life I wanted.” That’s great and all, but how true is it? Maybe she means it in the moment. But as we learn, her life has been a series of disappointments. But we build ourselves up, present a tough exterior, don’t want to be eaten by the wolves. Because the wolves are everywhere. But who wants to hear about that? Who wants to hear that we’re scared, unsure, or are not any closer to answers than we were on the day we were born? Maybe there are no answers. But we keep that to ourselves. We pretend to know who we are and what we want, but often we only know who we’ve told ourselves we’re supposed to be, and that may not always hold up to scrutiny. So at the end of the day (and of life), who do we share our real selves with? And where do we find the people who will let us put the guard down so we can tell our real truths? And will anyone even want to hear it?
Catherine Frot, as Clare, the midwife of the title, doesn’t want to hear it. She’s tired. She has enough to deal with. She works the graveyard shift at a clinic that’s losing money and is about to close. She’ll have to reckon with a new job, new faces, new loans, new routes to work, different hours spent in her garden. It’s exhausting. But that’s life. And death. New babies are born every night, and a dying woman follows her around during the day. A simple binary, sure, but it’s the details that make it work.
I didn’t want to give too much away in this review, but suffice it to say that Martin Provost has created something special for us here. Can we organize and see if we can knock that scary clown movie out of first place next weekend?