“The Well Digger’s Daughter”

Daniel Auteuil’s film, “The Well Digger’s Daughter” is a small tapestry of love, family, and honor woven across class and generations.  Gelled pastoral images and muted passionate music illumine his steadfast choice of restrained intimacy in screenplay and direction.

Auteuil’s brilliance at self-direction and in his work with the other actors also shows restraint and economy of moment and expression.  What is left unsaid or understated carries more power than speech.  The crossing of a stream and then a brief ride on a motorcycle without dialogue or drama initiates the seduction of Patricia, the well digger’s daughter, by Jacques, the general store owner’s son.

Jacques and Patricia are prince and princess known and limited by what their parents do.  He is described as “a gentleman, but still kind.”  She is beautiful and is so loving that her father says with astonishment that he loves her as he would a son.

War and consequences separate the lovers, but it is losing and finding family and right relationship that sweeps through this film again and again, like the wind in country fields of Alpes Côte-Azur.

In many ways this is too beautiful a remake of the 1940 classic by Marcel Pagnol.  The harsh realities of class and survival are as muted as the lovely fields and operatic themes of the score.

Nevertheless, this is a more modest film in which you care about every character (seriously, every one) as they navigate their multiple selves and react to their own actions with surprise, “It isn’t me.”   Pascal, the honest well digger and widowed father of six daughters, seems to know who he is and what he honors.  So it is hard to imagine that he is surprised by his need to distrust those who “sell tools but never use them,” or that he might lose through pride what he knows he loves with his life.

The values portrayed and prized in this film, and needed today more than ever are reflected in Auteuil’s direction: the restraint of honor and the extravagant generosity of love.

Delicate performances by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as Patricia and Kad Marad as the unrequited “clean and decent” well digging suitor Felipe bring small revelations with each turn.  And even though you can see the turns coming a long way down the road, you look forward to each one.

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