Life is a series of transitions, bookended by the two great transitions of birth and death. But along the way there are many more shifts in our lives—some trivial, others more profound. The Midwife is a story of the transitions of life that are–like life itself–a mixture of humor and poignancy.
Claire (Catherine Frot) is a French midwife who has settled into her life. She gets a call from Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), asking to meet. Béatrice is the former mistress of Claire’s father. She abandoned them when Claire was a teenager, contributing to her father’s suicide. Claire is understandably cool with Béatrice. Even when Béatrice reveals that she is dying, Claire is slow to welcome her back into her life. But Béatrice really has no one else in all the world. She has lived “the life I wanted”, which has been totally self-centered.
Claire and Béatrice are both people who long for control in their lives, but have found that control by very different methods. Claire has tightly constructed her life. She leads a quiet existence without extremes. Béatrice, on the other hand, seeks to be in control by living free from societal constraints. Yet they both wish that the other could have been the mother-figure or daughter that has been missing in their lives.
While Béatrice deals with her mortality, Claire continues her work as a midwife, bringing new life into the world. (The film includes real-life birth sequences.) But even though those existential events provide for a contrast, the kinds of everyday transitions are what really drive the film. The clinic where Claire has worked for years is about to be closed. She can’t bring herself to work at the new regional birthing center (she calls it a “baby factory”) where even the term midwife is being replaced by “birth technician”. Her son is dropping out of medical school and is about to become a father (making Claire a grandmother). Although she’s not sought out a romantic relationship, one develops with the truck driving son of the neighbor at her garden. But the real transitions grow out of the interaction between Claire and Béatrice as they slowly come to understand and appreciate each other.
Both women must struggle with the loss of control as the lives they have constructed for themselves under go changes. Yet even though their worlds are turning upside down, the changes they meet bring them a something they have been missing. For Béatrice there is a sense of belonging to another that empowers her at the end of life. For Claire, it is an opening of new possibilities in her life.
We all experience transitions in our lives. Some are painful, others quite pleasurable. At times, we may seek ways of controlling all these changes. But through it all, we discover that our lives are constantly leading us to someplace new.
Photos Courtesy of Music Box Films