Writer and director Martin Provost (“Seraphine”) gives us in his newest film, a story of two women. We meet Claire (Catherine Frot), a French midwife employed by a clinic that is about to be closed down. There is pressure for her to join a new hi-tech birthing clinic, but Claire, a sweet, professional middle-aged woman, happy in her work, is resistant.

Claire, whose life is tidy and empty of troubling land mines, is a stern, health food devotee who reminds everyone else what harm they’re doing to their bodies. She doesn’t drink or smoke or eat a hot dog. Claire is no one’s idea of a fun date.

Claire has a garden she shares with her neighbor Paul, an international truck driver (a splendid Olivier Gourmet who eerily resembles the late Bert Lahr) and a lovable lug who keeps offering her special potatoes, and who we know is eventually going to offer a connubial dalliance.

Claire has a son, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), coming home this week with his girlfriend, now his wife, and not only his wife but also the mother of his child. They are sweet and uncomplicated, but not very interesting.

So Provost brings in Beatrice (the legendary Catherine Deneuve), a decades-ago mistress of Claire’s once-famous French Olympic swimming star father, who is now confined to his daughter’s silver frame on her dresser.

Be warned, this is not your mother’s Deneuve, the glamorous, powder and paint, elegant Deneuve of “Indochine” or “The Hunger,” but we’ll take her.

Apparently Beatrice used to be such a beauty, but has long fallen from grace.

Beatrice, we discover, broke up Claire’s parents’ marriage 30 years ago and then, frightened by her action, disappeared, and in that time ran through seven or eight boulevardiers.

Now, broke and shattered and out of shape, she’s back, dropped from a perfumed cloud on Claire’s doorstep, like a saner Blanche Dubois with pockets of cash she makes in local backroom poker parties.

In cafe chats with Claire, she claims that Claire’s daddy was her only true love. We don’t believe her, and neither does Claire, who spends most of the movie trying to get her to go away.

Beatrice is a charming user, a lovable drunk, overeater, smoker and general pain in the croissant. In other words, a juicy Oscar part for any actress and one Deneuve is well prepared for.

Deneuve is really the best reason to see “The Midwife,” even though time and again after her repeated attempts to interfere with Claire’s regimented life, Beatrice ultimately grows tiresome.

Despite Deneuve’s good moments, we can’t take her into our hearts. She’s like the crazy aunt who keeps falling off the wagon and just wants to move in and sleep on the couch, or the sister-in-law who won’t stay in rehab. Enough is enough.

A welcome coming together arrives when Claire discovers that Beatrice has been diagnosed with a brain cancer. We don’t believe that either, but it’s true.

The last half of the film is a sweet, but temporary, coming together of two flawed women with a shared betrayal in the past — but it does so in stops and starts, and only drifts toward an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Both women, legendary French stars, give splendid performances: Frot as the repressed perfectionist and Deneuve as the happy go lucky but damaged soul. These are two wounded pilgrims hoping to erase the past. But in cinema life, we know how well that goes.

The ending is bittersweet. One night, Claire finds that Beatrice, suffering from severe headaches and fainting spells, has vanished, leaving a farewell note. Some will be dismayed, some, grateful.

We know that Claire, now having had a cigarette, vodka and growing love with her trucker, is softer. She is soon to be a grandma, and by the river, the closing violins sweep in. But where is Beatrice?

But Ou’se trouve Beatrice? Simply means “where is?”

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former film and stage actor.