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Monday, 20 March 2017

French Film Festival (5) - What of the row boat? Barrie Pattison reports on SAGE FEMME/MID WIFE

Martin Provost’s Sage Femme/Mid Wife, with a cast headed up by Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot, looked like a good proposition.

We kick off with midwife Frot fooling round in patients’ lady parts doing (real) difficult deliveries, a spinal tap (ugh!) and joining in industrial action over the closing down of her women’s health centre.

Along the way we learn that she doesn’t drink or smoke, goes for health food and her social life is pretty tame - so we know that she’s going to let her hair down (literally) pretty soon. The agent of change is the return, after thirty years, of her father’s bogus Russian aristocrat mistress Deneuve. She quit him when he suggested setting up on a farm together. That caused him to put a bullet in his heart. She is put out that dad is not still around and tries to rekindle the relationship she had with Frot as a child.

Deneuve with a probably fatal cancer of the brain cyst, outrages Frot by eating red meat and chips with mayonnaise, to go with the red wine, all feeding her ailment. Frot’s no meat no booze diet and frowzy style - tied back hair, plain raincoat outrages Deneuve’s joie de vivre.

Deneuve, Frot
Frot is reluctantly drawn into the post of carer just at the point where truck driver Olivier Gourmet (also in Chocolat), who has the adjacent allotment garden, is coming onto her and her son (Quentin Dolmaire) is dropping out of medical school.  Deneuve moves in with Frot, making her detour on the hospital pick up run after the operation and write cheques (two months’ salary) to give to a ravaged money lender (Mylene Demongeot) getting a single scene. Cash in hand, Deneuve hits the Montreuil card game again scooping off handsome winnings.

Frot, Gourmet
Best scene has the two women watching the box of old family slides from Frot’s self-storage with her son entering the image of his grandfather in swimmers (actually tricked shots of  the boy himself) bringing on Deneuve’s touchy feely side. Frot wants her gone when she comes home and finds Deneuve and Gourmet singing along with her dad’s old lps. Deneuve’s attempt at cashing in her four thousand Euro gold watch in the slummy neighborhood jewelers means Frot has to spring her from the gendarmerie.

There’s still a nice scene of the three riding in Gourmet’s truck singing and Deneuve taking the wheel and proving a natural. We also get one last night time emergency delivery at the closing health centre.

The interaction between the two super stars is intriguing for about half an hour but the weaknesses of the script become more evident as the film rolls on.

So what’s the significance of the sunken rowboat they emphasise?

I’ve forgotten Provost’s other movies so I don’t think this one will linger despite its Boulevard Cinema polish.

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