The Midwife is a tale as told by two Catherines — Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve.

Frot plays Claire, who, except for the fact that her clinic is about to be shut-down by a much larger competitor, is a highly successful midwife. She is, however, a rather repressed single mother with a college age son whom she sees only sporadically.

Enter Béatrice (Deneuve) who is suffering from cancer and was the mistress of Claire’s father several decades ago. The situation clearly did not end well and there is a definite residue of ill will and resentment from Claire. The character differences between the fun loving Béatrice and the more austere Claire are well set out in an early encounter in a restaurant. Despite suffering from cancer, Béatrice still drinks, eats red meat and smokes, much to Claire’s disapproval. Consistent with her live-for-the-moment attitude Béatrice states, “I believe in the power of pleasure. Don’t count on me eating vegetable broth and steamed broccoli.”

An entente of sorts is reached between the two women and Claire begins to care for Béatrice. But the benefits of the relationship are not one-way. Béatrice’s appreciation for the sensuous aspects of life has an effect on Claire, who lets her hair down (literally) and pursues a promising relationship with a thoughtful truck driver.

The Midwife is directed by Martin Provost whose prior credits include Violette and Séraphine. Provost apparently wrote The Midwife specifically for Deneuve and Frot, and the two actresses’ textured performances complement each other quite well. The portrayals are equally impressive – Frot for its realism and subtle transformation, and Deneuve for a sense of glamour that still projects a believable vulnerability. Yves Cape was the director of photography and several of the outdoor scenes are particularly elegantly shot.

There is a certain dichotomy in The Midwife as Claire delivers one baby after another while simultaneously tending to Béatrice’s potentially fatal illness. Watching the film I was reminded of Shakespeare’s line about all the men and women of the world having their exits and entrances. The movie is aware of the transitory nature of life and seems to accept it without allowing an excessive melancholy or sadness to set in. Despite all the transition, the last few shots and lines in Midwife seem to confirm that life always finds one way or another to renew itself.

The Midwife is a very rewarding film and opens on July 21 in New York and Los Angeles.