Pretty Provencal pass
IF YOU SEEK relief from the icy northern winds, then you could do worse than take shelter with Daniel Auteuil’s insubstantial but rather lovely remake of a lesser-known Marcel Pagnol film from 1940.
Set in the early days of the second World War, The Well-digger’s Daughter tells the story of Pascal (Auteuil), a horny-handed labourer, whose daughter (Astrid Bergès- Frisbey) falls for the son of an upwardly mobile shopkeeper (the flawless Jean-pierre Darroussin). She discovers herself pregnant at about the same time the young man, an aviator, is sent to the front. Pascal dresses up the family and escorts them to the merchant’s house, where he is insulted and dispatched back to his wells. A simmering feud develops.
Decorated with many shots of billowing Provencal poppy fields, the film scares up numerous reminders of the Pagnol adaptations ( Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources) with which Auteuil made his name. This is, however, a somewhat less overheated and fraught affair. You get the sense the film-makers are so in love with their characters they can’t quite bear to put them in too much peril. Awful things nearly happen, but the plot tends to pull back from calamity at the very last moment.
It’s endlessly pretty and features a great deal of jolly banter between Pascal and his amiable best pal Félipe (Kad Merad). The film is most memorable, however, for it’s desperately poignant treatment of the love between father and daughter.
Squaring himself up to his meagre full height, Pascal tries hard to come across like the outraged Victorian dad. He tells Félipe that he’d much rather have had sons. But, a master of conveying inner sweetness, Auteuil makes it clear that the grumpy well-digger would rather claw out his own liver than hurt or disappoint the inconvenienced young woman.
The ending is so gooey it could rot teeth at 40 paces. But the empty calories remain delicious throughout.