This low-key, character-driven drama is being billed as a face-off between two legendary French actresses. One, Catherine Deneuve, is a legitimate claimant to that status on this side of the Atlantic. Her co-star, Catherine Frot, requires a little more introduction. She’s racked up more than 90 French film credits since her 1975 debut, and is probably best known here for The Page Turner (2006), and Marguerite (2015), which earned her a Best Actress César Award.
Both are formidable artists, and together they make the screen crackle. We meet Frot first, as Claire, the title character, a fifty-something midwife working at a maternity clinic in the Paris suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie. She’s an earnest, self-denying, compassionate woman who delivers babies (we see several live births), tends her garden, and worries about her medical student son (Quentin Dolmaire, My Golden Days). Outside of her vocation, she does not have much of what you would call a life.
Then a voice shows up on her answering machine. It’s one Claire hasn’t heard in 35 years. It belongs to Béatrice (Deneuve), her father’s glamorous mistress back in the day. Reluctantly, Claire agrees to meet with the woman she idolized as a teenager, but who broke her and her father’s hearts when she left without warning or explanation.
Béatrice is clearly interested in getting together again with the father, but that proves impossible, as he is no longer with us. She confesses to Claire that she has an incurable brain tumor and no one to turn to for help. Claire is still bitter, but she’s too much the do-gooder to turn her back entirely.
Béatrice is everything Claire is not. In her mid-seventies, she’s still a femme fatale, with a gorgeous mane of flowing blonde hair and saucy eyes. She drinks like a fish, eats red meat and fried foods, and chainsmokes cigarettes the length of no. 10 pencils. She plays poker for a living. Some days business is good, some days not so good. Lately, she’s broke.
Gradually Claire allows herself to be drawn into a relationship. It begins with grudging nurturing, but soon the influence spreads both ways. Claire begins to emerge, duckling-like, from her shell. She lets her hair down, tries a little lipstick. She smiles. And she casts a warmer eye on the advances of a likeable truck-driver neighbor (Olivier Gourmet).
There are social issues bound up in writer-director Martin Provost’s movie, but it’s primarily a tale of two women. The interaction between these great pros overcomes a little softness of story, and makes this a pleasure to watch.
The women: Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot