The Midwife was hailed as the first film co-starring the two French superstar Catherines: Catherine Deneuve, still resplendent at 73, and Catherine Frot, 60, who became better know to international audiences following her turn in Marguerite.
Ultimately the pair work wonderfully on screen as the opposites they are in real life.
“I didn't know Catherine, I’d never met her but I’d seen her in the theatre,” Deneuve explains. That was good for the roles as these two characters discover each other as we did while making the movie.”
The Midwife follows Deneuve’s rambunctious Béatrice who has terminal cancer, yet is determined to go out with a bang, drinking the best wine, eating the best meat, gambling and smoking. The main item on her bucket list is to reconnect with Frot’s Claire, the daughter of her former partner who is a midwife by profession. They had been a big part of each other’s lives during Claire’s teens 40 years earlier, though Béatrice had left Claire’s father rather abruptly and Claire struggles to forgive her.
“It’s not a mother-daughter relationship,” explains Deneuve. “It’s just a friendship between two women, though it’s something different than normal. Claire holds a grudge because of what happened with her father but Béatrice charms people, she’s full of generosity and in the end Claire falls for her.”
Dressed in a black leather short-sleeved dress at The Midwife’s press conference in Berlin and looking glamourous with her blonde trademark hair, Deneuve is seated at the podium together with the more retiring Frot – who interestingly is dressed in a less flashy white silky shirt. Opposites indeed. Still Deneuve insists she is not really like Béatrice. “Though I do understand the way she has to live day by day, not really planning anything. There were some really funny situations I really loved to play.”
The film’s producer Olivier Delbosc explains how he had worked separately with both actresses in the past and was determined to put them together in a film. “People want to see something new,” he says.
Ultimately the film is the brainchild of writer-director Martin Provost (Séraphine, available at SBS On Demand), who wrote his screenplay specifically for the two actresses. “The film reflects their own characters and Catherine Frot really let down her guard,” he says. “As Claire blossoms in the film, she falls in love with a man and comes to forgive Béatrice. Something miraculous happens.”
Deneuve notes that “One woman is coming to the end of her life, while the other is opening up to new possibilities.”
Provost explains how the film pays tribute to midwives, who are becoming increasingly under-valued in the modern health system. In fact Claire, who manages to set her birthing mothers incredibly at ease, is based on the midwife who saved his life, as he had required a blood transfusion at birth, and the midwife who delivered him had the rare matching blood type and gave him her blood.
Still, Frot had initially not been keen to film five childbirths.
“You’re an actor and you really slip into your parts,” she explains. “I’ve been a musician and a chef, but I must admit it was a big effort being a midwife. At the end of the day I found it very touching and inspiring. The first time I saw a baby coming out it was like a sculpture. I held onto that aesthetic, that feeling, and tried to make the five childbirths as straightforward as possible.”
'The Midwife' screens next month in Australia at the Alliance Française French Film Festival.