THE WELL DIGGER’S DAUGHTER (La fille du puisatier)
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Auteuil
Screenwriters: Marcel Pagnol, Daniel Auteuil
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Kad Merad, Sabine Azéma, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Nicolas Duvauchelle
Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 6/19/12
Opens: July 20, 2012While mature, general audiences might be suckers for sentimental movies with Hollywood endings, sometimes called “Hallmark” pictures, critics are often loath to give their kudos to the category. Perhaps this is because we journalists have seen a large number of movies and realize that the some of the best do show the mean sides of life. Though beautiful women sometimes marry virtual princes, realistic enough since good lookers attract good lookers, it would be unrealistic for Snow White to marry the Hunter given the class differences. If, however, Ms. White did have nuptials with the man who saved her, we might say that’s a Hollywood ending.
In his freshman debut as director, Daniel Auteuil, who is easily one of the best French actors of his generation and whose name I will one day learn to pronounced, had in mind a novel and movie from 1940 of Marcel Pagnol with the same name as this one, in which class differences play a big role in determining the course of events of a courtship between an 18-year-old gal and the son of a rich merchant. Perhaps in real life they’d never get together beyond a couple of dates, but what might overcome his reluctance to make her his bride is that she had been sent away to Paris by her dad at the age of six, returning to him a dozen years later to take care of the other girls of his brood. She now dresses with finery outside the realm of rural France and maintains a Parisian accent to her dad’s rough Provence speech. “My Fair Lady,” anyone?
To make a long introduction longer, “The Well Digger’s Daughter,” or “La fille du puisatier”), is a lovely, sentimental romp into the French countryside at the outbreak of World War I. The film is exquisitely photographed by Jean-Francois Robin with old-fashioned direction by Mr. Auteuil: no flashbacks, no CGI, no 3-D. Somehow the production team got a hold of a French railroad train, filled it with extras taking the parts of soldiers, and sent it zooming to the front, with speed that probably does not exceed that of the (now) antique cars on display, some of which requiring the driver to crank up the motor.
Auteuil takes on the role of Pascal, a poor well digger who might have made a few bucks had he appeared with Bennett Cerf and Arlene Francis on the 1950s U.S. TV program “What’s My Line?” His pretty eighteen-year-old daughter, Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), has fetched lunch for her dad and is helped across a stream by a pretty-boy pilot, Jacques (Nicolas Duvauchelle), acting as though he were Sir Walter Raleigh stretching out an overcoat to keep her dry. Jacques’ dad, M.Mazel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) owns a successful hardware store. Mazel’s son seems smitten with Patricia despite class differences, but Pascal’s best friend and co-worker, Félipe (Kad Merad), has had a not-so-secret crush on the lass and is about to propose marriage. When Jacques is called to the war and reported dead, Patricia’s in trouble. The virginal woman had apparently “sinned” with him (that’s her dad’s word) and is now pregnant.
Avoiding melodrama save for Pascal’s fury that her daughter will give birth to an illegitimate child, “The Well Digger’s Daughter” centers on the up-and-down relationship between Pascal and Patricia. How will the story turn out now that her lover is apparently dead? Will Patricia decide to marry the good-natured but rough-hewn, much older and bald Félipe? Will she be sent to a monastery to grieve for the remainder of her life?
Much of the quality of this production comes from the French-Catalan actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey, who has one of the most expressive faces you’ll see on the screen this year. Every subtlety of emotion is conveyed as she faces her critics with head down, looks upon her lover with sparkling eyes, and demands her independence under the tutelage of the aunt, to whose home she is sent at least until she has the baby. The ambiance of France in 1914 is one of the picture’s highlights as are Pierre-Yves Gayraud’s costumes. English subtitles are clear. Hallmark fans will be pleased and so should others.
Unrated. 107 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+