Pretty Proven­cal pass

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

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.

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