out of Five
Running time: 107
Beautifully shot and emotionally engaging, this is an enjoyably old fashioned French drama with a superb script, likeable characters and terrific performances from Auteil, Darroussin and Berges-Frisbey.
What's it all about?
Directed by actor Daniel Auteuil, The Well Digger's Daughter (La fille du puisatier, original title fans) is based on the novel by Marcel Pagnol, who, not coincidentally, wrote Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, the much-loved films that helped make Auteuil's name and which his directorial debut strongly resembles. Set in rural pre-war France, the film stars Auteuil as widower Pascal Amoretti, who works as a well-digger in order to support his six daughters, the eldest of which is the beautiful Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).
While Pascal hopes to marry Patricia off to his kind-hearted friend Felipe (Kad Merad), she only has eyes for Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the handsome son of wealthy shopkeepers (Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Sabine Azema). However, their whirlwind romance results in Patricia getting pregnant and when Jacques is called to war (before he finds out), his parents refuse to acknowledge that the baby is his.
Daniel Auteuil is excellent as Pascal, torn between his deep love for his daughter and his desire to do the right thing in society's eyes. Similarly, Astrid Berges-Frisbey (last seen as the sexy mermaid in Pirates 4) is utterly adorable as Patricia and there's terrific support from Kad Merad (heart-breaking as a middle-aged simple soul with a heart of gold), Emilie Cazenave (as Pascal's daughter Amanda, who's secretly in love with Felipe) and the always-excellent Jean-Pierre Darroussin.
The script is excellent, with elaborate, yet precise dialogue that centres around the propriety involved in doing the right thing for all concerned – the confrontations between Auteuil and Darroussin play out like duels of impossibly polite eloquence. The film is also beautifully shot, with Auteuil drenching the countryside setting in gorgeous sunlight.
By the simple expedient of establishing likeable characters and having them behave nicely towards one another (even when Pascal sends Patricia away, he's ridiculously nice about it), the film exerts a powerful emotional grip as we root for everything to work out. With that in mind, it's surprising that Auteuil chooses to underplay certain elements of the climax, though it still delivers the emotional goods.
The Well Digger’s Daughter is a handsomely made and delightfully old-fashioned French drama that exerts a strong emotional grip thanks to a superb script, likeable characters and superb performances. Worth seeking out.
The Well Digger's Daughter (PG)