You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Well-Digger’s Daughter

The humanist spirit of director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the sincere "Well-Digger's Daughter."

With:
With: Daniel Auteuil, Kad Merad, Sabine Azema, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Emilie Cazenave, Marie-Anne Chazel, Coline Bosso, Chlie Malarde, Brune Coustellier.

The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with Pagnol’s universe exactly 25 years after his breakthrough role in “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring.” Local April 20 bow was strong, and older arthouse auds offshore will also find this to their taste.

Though the 1940 version of “The Well-Digger’s Daughter” was informed by a stronger sense of naturalism, urgency and topicality, with the ongoing war actually feeding into the story, both versions are imbued with the bucolic charm and the conspicuous lack of villains that is typical of Pagnol’s work, with its flawed but honest, deeply human characters.

In Auteuil’s retelling, the war is further reduced to a simple patriotic duty, with the enemy and frontlines completely invisible. With the benefit of hindsight, the remake also more clearly articulates the changing mores of the mid-20th century, with the titular well-digger, played by Auteuil himself in an impressively fleshed-out role, even more obviously torn between what he feels is expected of him and what he feels is right.

Auteuil plays Pascal Amoretti, a proud but poor man based in the rural South of France. To help him raise his many daughters on his own, Amoretti has asked his teen offspring, Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), to return from Paris, where she was being looked after by nuns. Patricia might stand out in the small community with her big-city airs, but she clearly loves her dad and tackles her duties with a smile.

Dashing pilot Jacques (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the son of the village’s rich hardware-store owner (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his flighty wife (Sabine Azema), is immediately smitten with the newly returned beauty. But Amoretti has already considered giving Patricia away in marriage to his decidedly older employee, Felipe (Kad Merad).

The outbreak of war sends both Felipe and Jacques to the front, though not before Jacques makes his move on Patricia and, in one of the film’s strongest scenes, Patricia reveals to Felipe why she can’t marry him: She’s pregnant.

Remainder of the pic, which plays out the consequences of Jacques and Patricia’s single sexual encounter, could have yielded an over-the-top melodrama. But Auteuil, who also penned the adaptation, exercises the appropriate restraint, simply observing these people struggle with their day-to-day reality, the expectations of the village and what their hearts tell them is right.

With his coarse features, thick Provencal accent and grubby rags, Auteuil’s Amoretti cuts an appropriately blocky figure opposite the delicate Berges-Frisbey, who speaks proper French and is dressed in Parisian finery. The father-daughter coupling is the movie’s central emotional axis and is never less than convincing.

Auteuil gets the lion’s share of the at-times lyrical dialogue, while French-Catalan thesp Berges-Frisbey (a relative newcomer who will be seen in the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) uses her expressive face, often seen in closeup, to suggest that her character doesn’t take her decisions lightly. Merad is convincing in a role originated by Fernandel, and rest of the cast is on the money, though Azema strikes a rare false note as Jacques’ hysterical, one-dimensional mother.

Production and costume designs are lush, with Jean-Francois Robin’s lensing accentuating the pretty, bucolic setting. As with some of his other recent work for French film, Alexandre Desplat’s score is less singular than his work for English-language projects (“The Ghost Writer,” “Fantastic Mr Fox”).

For the record, the producers were so enthusiastic about the rookie scribe-helmer’s work here that a remake of Pagnol’s Marseillaise trilogy, also shepherded by Auteuil, was greenlit even before “Daughter” preemed.

The Well-Digger's Daughter

France

Production: A Pathe Distribution release of an A.S. Films, Zack Films, Pathe, TF1 Films production, in association with Canal Plus, CineCinema. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Alain Sarde, Jerome Seydoux. Directed, written by Daniel Auteuil, based on the screenplay by Marcel Pagnol.

Crew: Camera (color), Jean-Francois Robin; editor, Joelle Hache; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Bernard Vezat; costume designer, Pierre-Yves Gayraud; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Henri Morelle, Jean Goudier, Thomas Gaudier; assistant director, Alain Olivieri-Afar; casting, Elodie Demey. Reviewed at Utopolis, Luxembourg, April 20, 2011. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: With: Daniel Auteuil, Kad Merad, Sabine Azema, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Emilie Cazenave, Marie-Anne Chazel, Coline Bosso, Chlie Malarde, Brune Coustellier.

More Film

  • Bradley Cooper Robert De Niro

    Bradley Cooper on His Secret Pact With Lady Gaga for 'A Star is Born'

    The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with […]

  • The seagull

    Tribeca Film Review: 'The Seagull'

    The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with […]

  • Verne TroyerStarkey Hearing Foundation Awards Gala,

    Verne Troyer, Mini-Me in 'Austin Powers,' Dies at 49

    The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with […]

  • 'Greatest Showman' Tops Disc Sales Charts

    'Greatest Showman' Tops Disc Sales Charts as 'Last Jedi' Slips to No. 2

    The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with […]

  • Stockholm review

    Tribeca Film Review: Ethan Hawke in 'Stockholm'

    The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with […]

  • READY PLAYER ONE

    Steven Spielberg's 'Ready Player One' Crosses $500 Million Worldwide

    The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with […]

  • Hans Zimmer90th Annual Academy Awards, Roaming

    Hans Zimmer to Receive Steiner Award at Hollywood in Vienna Gala

    The humanist spirit of Gallic novelist-director Marcel Pagnol is alive and well in the old-fashionedly sincere “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” a competent remake of Pagnol’s eponymous 1940 melodrama about a working-class girl impregnated by a young pilot who’s sent off to war. As an added marketing bonus, pic reconnects star and debuting scribe-helmer Daniel Auteuil with […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content