Not a whole lot happens in The Midwife, but there's never a dull moment, thanks to the opposing yet equally stellar performances by the two Catherines in lead. Catherine Frot plays the midwife, a timid, middle-aged woman named Claire whose mundane day-to-day is disrupted when a figure from her past comes back into her life. That would be Catherine Deneuve's Béatrice, the ex-lover of Claire's late father.
Béatrice, recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, wants to make things right, but it's too little too late -- Claire's father, stricken with depression when Béatrice left him, committed suicide many years ago. Claire's polite demeanor, worn down with resentment, resurfaces with Béatrice's return. Deneuve gives the firecracker performance to Frot's more understated one, as a woman who remains stubborn until her dying day, who refuses to give up the good things in life; even with her health deteriorating, Béatrice continues to eat red meat with red wine.
It all builds to a turning point -- that should be no surprise -- when Claire and Béatrice find common ground and start to enjoy each other's company. Director Martin Provost doesn't do this with a showy aha moment. Rather, he illustrates the shift with subtle behavior. There's a scene later in the film when Claire, who usually doesn't put much effort into her appearance, is seen applying lipstick and perfume before a date, mirroring an earlier scene in which Béatrice does the same. Béatrice may be a tornado of a presence, but her influence teaches Claire to live a little, too.