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"We are given life at the same time as death takes it away"

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Martin Provost • Director

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- We caught up with French screenwriter and director Martin Provost in Berlin to talk about The Midwife, which was unveiled out of competition

Martin Provost • Director
(© Berlinale)

Accustomed to painting the portraits of women, the writer of Séraphine [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Violette [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
uses his film The Midwife [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Martin Provost
film profile
]
to tell the story of the reunion "at a time of transition in their lives" between Claire (Catherine Frot), the nurse in the title – single, old enough to be the mother of a child old enough to be a parent themselves, and more attentive to the needs of others than her own pleasure – and a face from her past, Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), the last mistress of her deceased father, a somewhat volatile hedonist who burns the candle at both ends with an infectious zest for life. Buoyed by the "genius" of the two actresses for whom he created these roles, Martin Provost sensitively recounts how, by picking up the threads of a long obscured friendship, midway "between being born and dying", the two women make their way along a stretch of the path of life together. The director talked to us about what compelled him to make this film and to create these two strong and moving characters.   

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: At first glance, The Midwife seems to lead us into a world far removed from your usual one. Where did you start in imagining this story?
Martin Provost: I just didn’t want to talk about myself. Of course, perhaps when all is said and done, all we ever talk about is ourselves, but I really wanted to do something else. As it so happened, I wanted to pay tribute to midwives, like the one who saved my life – as when I was born, I almost died, and as they desperately tried to find me some blood, they discovered that this midwife had the same blood type as me and that she could give me her blood. So I have midwife blood in my veins, and it’s something I often think about. That said, I really wanted to pay tribute to an entire profession, to move beyond my own personal story to make this a wider story for everyone. So I imagined this character, this character at a time of transition in her life, with everything that could happen to her stretching out before her, and above all, this chance to open the door on life but also on death – as they’re the same action: we are given life at the same time that death takes it away, it guides us. 

The link between Claire et Béatrice, which hinges on the deceased father of the former, has long been broken, denied even, and it should have stayed that way, but although their reunion is by no means easy, they realise that without it, their lives would not have been complete.
It’s the fact that when Claire was a child, Béatrice introduced a sort of carefreeness and zest for life into her life, which, once gone, she really missed. That’s also what the film is about: absence. When you think about it, the main character in the film is a man! (laughs). People are always telling me that I only write films about women, but if you look closely, there’s always a man in there, albeit a very absent one. I talk a lot about the absence of men. The father is a man who they have really missed, and this is what brings them back together, they make peace with and accept his death, forgiving him for it. 

Did you write the parts of Claire and Béatrice especially for Frot and Deneuve?
That was my point of departure: I really wrote the screenplay for them, and for Olivier Gourmet as well. I dreamt of having this trio, and the three of them said yes! It’s unbelievable when that happens. I had my fears during our first meetings, but it all went well because they were full of goodwill, they wanted to be part of this story. I only had to put the two Catherines together and voilà, I had the characters of the film! Because I have to say that it all happened rather like in the film, like a sort of almost unlikely encounter between two completely different but very complementary characters. I don’t know if they completely realised it, but I saw a spark, and that I was going to have some amazing material to show. I had to demonstrate a certain amount of humbleness to get to the heart of the characters, and to watch them work, as they really are geniuses.

(Translated from French)

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