Two rookie midwives are thrown into the deep end in a chaotic, underfunded and understaffed maternity ward in director Léa Fehner’s compassionate French drama of triumph over adversity.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Plunging us into the maelstrom of a Toulouse maternity ward, understaffed, underequipped and on the brink of collapse, this penetrating film pays vibrant homage to those who work the birthing frontlines. It is also a passionate outcry about the parlous state of the French health system, an impassioned cry that echoes far beyond that country’s borders.
Best mates Louise and Sofia finally enter working life after training for five years to become midwives. Their first day on the job has little in common with their period of study, and they are quickly divested of their illusions and expectations as they are thrust into the frenetic pace of a maternity ward—and to assisting with their first deliveries (real childbirth scenes occur throughout the film, a testament to director Léa Fehner’s finesse at establishing a safe setting and intimacy for these parents who become part of the narrative). Chronic understaffing forces the midwives to juggle multiple labours simultaneously. Stress risks impacting their health and compromising their patients’ wellbeing. And there’s the human factor of people in a state of transition, about to become parents, worried, hysterical, ecstatic: fine negotiating skills are sometimes required; other situations call for a blunt and more assertive approach.
Although counterbalanced by moments of camaraderie and joy as new life is helped into the world, and comic interludes engendered by gawky, sweet-natured and clumsy Valentin, an intern, coping within a system stretched to the limit means boundaries are inevitably crossed. Small wonder, in a place where life-or-death consequences are confronted on a daily basis, and when doing your utmost is barely good enough due to failing infrastructure and support, that some ponder their choice of vocation. — Sandra Reid