Friday, July 27, 2012

The Well Digger's Daughter (Thursday, July 12, 2012) (63)

Perhaps best known for Claude Berri's two 1986 adaptations of his novels, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, Marcel Pagnol remains one of the most important romantic writers and filmmakers of the pre-War era in France. Described by Jean Renoir as "an author of genius," Pagnol mostly wrote about early-mid-twentieth century rural France and all the colorful, modest and immodest people who live there.

Daniel Auteuil, who played Ugolin, the stubborn farmer in Jean de Florette, makes his writing and directoral debut with an adaptation of Pagnol's The Well Digger's Daughter, a light story that seems to fall in perfect like with the films of Berri, not to mention the lighter fare of Renoir or Pagnol himself.

Pascal Amoretti (Auteuil) is a very proud well digger in southern France. His devoted daughter, Patricia (the absolutely gorgeous Astrid Berges-Frisbey), takes care of him and his passel of young kids now that the mother is dead. Due to some quick economic figuring, Patricia had been partly raised in Paris by a rich lady and only came back south recently. Because of her brief flirtation with bourgeoisdom, she tilts her head a bit too far up and has a slightly fancy air about her.

She meets Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the son of the local grocery store owner and a dandy and a total snob. He woos her and she gives in quickly -- and they have a quick fling in the hay loft. He is then sent off to War (WWI) suddenly and is unable to tell her he loves her, etc. She becomes doubly sad, not just losing her boyfriend, but also because she gets pregnant from their tumble.

Pascal and her go to the Mazel house to ask for help, but they turn them away, seeing them as gold diggers. When news arrives that Jacques has died in battle, Pascal sets himself to raising his grandson with pride in his family and a bitterness for others.

There is a lot of discussion here about classism, sinful pride and snobbery and how it comes in all shapes and sizes from all directions. At first the Amorettis are treated badly by the Mazel's for being poor, but then Pascal responds by treating them with contempt for being out of touch. Jacques and Patricia's relationship, though brief, is filled with each one trying to gain upper-hand through money, body or psychology.

This film plays mostly as a charming chamber piece, light and funny at times and melodramatic at others. It is a very good movie with a seemingly timeless story, although it is not really brilliant and feels ultimately small and sometimes too shallow. Still, it's enjoyable and done in a very clean, naturalistic way.

Stars: 3 of 4