A thoughtfully engaging (subtitled) French import from actor Daniel Auteuil (The Valet, My Best Friend, Cache) is a deft, somewhat understated debut that works with emotional heft from a 1940 novel by Marcel Pagnol (who also wrote novels adapted into films that helped establish the groundwork for the notable Gallic thespian).
The Well Digger's Daughter (La Fille Du Puisatier), besides the sharp Auteuil on both sides of the camera, also stars Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey. The setting is pre-WWII France with Auteuil as widower Pascal Amoretti who toils in the titular profession to provide for six daughters, the oldest played by Berges-Frisbey, the lovely Patricia.
Pascal has plans for his adorable Patricia to his middle-aged friend Felipe, a heartrending Kad Merad, but she is leaning towards hunky pilot Jacques (Nicolas Duvauchelle), son of successful shopkeepers (Darroussin and Sabine Azema). A romantic flurry leads to a pregnancy with an unbeknownst Jacques summoned by the draft and his parents uncooperative in identifying his paternity.
Part of the detail that Auteuil brings into the script has a pungent expression about it (in many of the line-readings) with reputation and socioeconomic stature allowing the actor to have some vibrant scenes, especially with a very sound Darroussin. It's hard not to sympathize with the implications of Pascal towards his daughter and being accepted by society. Berges-Frisbey, a sexy mermaid in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, definitely exudes a like ability even when much tension is felt between Patricia and her father. Also, along with the extensive goodness from Merad, there's the coquettish Emilie Cazenave whose Amanda (Patricia's sister) quietly pines for Felipe.
The tyro helmer shapes a period melodrama into quite a pulchritudinous production, especially with verdant sights gracefully sun-drenched, as the characters seem to be awfully polite to one another. Consequently, the close attention to the storyline and characterizations pay off even without the emphasis some audiences may expect for the effect sometimes seen in crowd pleasers. Navigating through tradition and pride with honesty and even an unsentimental spirit, The Well Digger's Daughter delightful digs its way into something with more twists than just to please romantics.
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