Sages-Femmes (Midwives) FL, 2023, 3 ¾ stars

Pushed to the limit

Image courtesy of Enzian / Florida Film Festival

Exclusive to MeierMovies, April 9, 2024

What will be the final frontier of film? Some argue it will be AI, or a complete digital replacement of actors with CGI. Some suggest it will be interactive cinema, in which the audience picks the plots, in a sort of cinematic metaverse. Or it could be genre-blending, in which animation and live-action alternate, or documentary and narrative-fiction are interspersed.

If the latter is the answer, the future is already here. In fact, the future has been here since the 1920s, when the first “documentary,” Nanook of the North, used non-doc elements alongside real people and events. Though inserting non-doc content into true documentaries is no longer common, the reverse has blossomed in recent decades: adding real content to narrative fiction. Even Oscar winners have done it, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Nomadland. But it’s still not prevalent, and is rarely done well. So when it IS done well, such as in Midwives, it creates a lasting impression.

Part slice-of-lifer, part straight-up drama, part buddy dramedy and part political protest, writer-director Léa Fehner’s Sages-Femmes (literally “wise women” in French) is an intimate, emotional portrait of the women who deliver babies in a French hospital with limited resources and staffing. Focused on two new midwives, Sofia (Khadija Kouyaté) and Louise (Héloïse Janjaud), the French-language film also finds room for some sweet, lighthearted moments courtesy of a male hospital worker, Valentin (Quentin Vernede). The chemistry of the three actors, plus the aforementioned footage of real births featuring non-actors, makes for a gripping, intense, frenetic, hyper-realistic experience that is not easily forgotten. The hurried relentlessness, combined with the active camera, can be exhausting, but one is left with a sense of the fatigue midwives must feel.

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This capsule review is part of my coverage of the 2024 Florida Film Festival. To find out when this movie is playing and buy tickets, go to FloridaFilmFestival.com. For more information about the event and an index of reviews of other festival films, go here. For more information on this movie, visit IMDB.