French actresses Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot discussed their first-ever meeting on the big screen at the Berlin Film Festival on Tuesday following screening of their out of competition entry “The Midwife,” by writer-director Martin Provost.
The film focuses on Claire (Frot), a middle-aged midwife who after many years is reacquainted with Béatrice (Deneuve), the one-time mistress of her late father, who is seeking her help.
“We didn’t know each other very well,” Deneuve said at a press conference. “We had never had the chance to meet each other before.” The actress said it was actually better for the film that they had never met before because there was no sense of intimacy between the two women. “It works well for the film.”
Comparing herself to her character, a loud, colorful and egocentric glamourpuss with an extremely free-spirited approach to life, Deneuve said she was nothing like Béatrice, though she really liked the part.
Deneuve took issue with one question from a critical journalist who opined that the film was not a masterpiece like her earlier works with renowned filmmakers of years past. Noting that the comment was “mean,” the actress went on to explain that no one can set out to make a masterpiece. “When I made ‘Mississippi Mermaid’ with François Truffaut, it was dismissed by critics. It wasn’t until years later that it was appreciated. You never know you’re making a masterpiece, it takes time.”
Offering her thoughts on Oscar favorite “La La Land” and how it was inspired by Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” Deneuve said, “I’ve seen the film – it’s a very beautiful film. The director himself has said how much he was inspired by our film. It’s really nice knowing that your work has inspired a young director like that.”
On choosing parts in films today, Deneuve said what attracts her now is the same as what has always attracted her: “It’s the same thing I felt years go, the desire be in a good film, a good story. It’s also the character but most of all it’s the film, and also the director that I choose.”
Provost said he was particularly moved by how Deneuve “let down her guard. I saw her really blossoming in this role. It’s quite astonishing how this happens, it’s mysterious, it’s miraculous.”
Provost added that he wrote the screenplay with Deneuve in mind. It was “absolutely fantastic” when he found out that both Deneuve and Frot liked the script. “I really wanted to work with both Catherines,” he said.
The director also sought to create a harmonious atmosphere for his cast. “I try to work with a degree of gentleness, so everyone can feel as much at ease as possible. I hate conflict.”
For Frot, the role of the midwife and the training that accompanied the part offered unique challenges. “I wasn’t terribly keen on it from the outset. It’s not acting as such. As an actor, you really slip into particular roles, particular professions. I’ve been a chef, I’ve been a musician, but a midwife is more difficult. I had to learn the technical gestures. I had to be more cold and emotionless. We filmed five births during the shooting. If someone were to give birth tomorrow, I could definitely help out.”
Touching on the deeper aspects of the film and the relationship between the estranged women, Froth said the film dealt with the issue of forgiveness, and that being able to forgive allows a person to be free.