The Midwife

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: Unrated. In subtitled French.

Theater: Edina.

 

The midwife of the title is Claire (Catherine Frot), a Parisian woman in her 50s who, after years of bringing new life into the world, finds herself in the position of escorting someone toward death. It’s been several decades since Claire last saw Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve), her late father’s former mistress, who has resurfaced with a brain tumor and a contrite spirit, hoping to use what time remains to make things right.

One of the pleasures of this modestly stirring relationship drama, written and directed by French actor-turned-filmmaker Martin Provost, is its refusal to foist a tidy redemption or life-changing epiphany on either of its two excellent leads. Indeed, the movie’s recognition that people tend to remain their disagreeable, inconsiderate selves, even (or especially) when staring death in the face, may be its most humanizing gesture.

This is an absorbing meander of a movie with a subtle take on midlife near-crisis. But it jolts to life whenever its two great Catherines are sharing the screen, whether driving each other crazy or collapsing in tears. Deneuve makes Beatrice an irrepressible life force, but Frot has the trickier, more recessive role.

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

 

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

⋆⋆⋆out of four stars

Rated: R for nudity and profanity.

Theater: Lagoon.

Directed by idiosyncratic documentarian Errol Morris, this is a love letter to photographer Elsa Dorfman, 80, best known for her large-format Polaroid portraits. Now it’s her turn in front of the lens.

Most of the movie is a conversation between Morris and Dorfman, who pulls out one giant print after another from storage cabinets as she talks about the subjects and her working methods. She offers clients a selection of two shots; one print goes to the customer, and she keeps the reject (or B-side), which, it turns out, is often the more intriguing one.

The most interesting parts of this conversation come when Dorfman talks about the art of portraiture. “I’m really interested in the surfaces of people,” she says, in a departure from what many other portrait artists say about getting beneath a subject’s skin. And she compares photography to a hammer attempting to “nail down the now.” Then she laughs at the futility of that effort. “The now,” she says, “is constantly racing beyond you.”

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post