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aka - Fille du Puisatier, La
France 2011
Directed by
Daniel Auteuil
105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

The Well Digger's Daughter

Synopsis: Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is 18 and has returned home from Paris, where she was sent to live with a high class lady after her mother’s death. Now tends to her father Pascal (Daniel Auteuil) and her five sisters. One day, just before WW II, she meets a handsome young pilot, Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duveauchelle), son of wealthy storekeepers, Msr & Mme Mazel (Jean-Pierre Daroussin & Sabine Azema). Patricia is smitten with Jacques, while her father’s colleague, Felipe (Kad Merad), wishes to marry her. But a dramatic turn of events will challenge their preconceptions, social expectations and even their lives.

Back in 1940 writer and filmmaker Marcel Pagnon (now dead some 30 years) wrote a screenplay and directed a film of La Fille du Puisatier. Years later he wrote the novels that became the 1986 films Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources in which Daniel Auteil first came to screen prominence. Now Auteuil has taken and adapted Pagnon’s earlier screenplay into this delightful remake – an uplifting drama/comedy, with a barrel-load of heart and a soupçon of schmaltz. If you saw those aforementioned beautifully bucolic films, you have the idea of the sort of film you’re getting into here: a quintessentially French story about honest, hardworking provincials and the clash that occurs when the interests of the poor and the rich collide.  There is also the strong sense of family, specifically the powerful bond between a single father and his daughters, and the heart-wrenching decisions he must make when his favourite daughter does something that offends his morals and the family’s honour.

The film belongs firmly to the three main characters. Auteuil is obviously very comfy in his debut director’s seat and also gives a warm and big-hearted performance (a little in the shade of Depardieu perhaps?) as a father torn between paternal love and social probity. Berges-Frisbey is a sweet, vulnerable yet strong screen presence as Patricia, while the irrepressible Merat walks a fine line between comedy and seriousness as Felipe, one of life’s truly nice guys.  Daroussin and Azema are also excellent as Jacques’ parents, whilst all the little girls in Pascals’ brood are a delight.

Many issues belonging to the old days are centre and forward – the role of women, the paternal culture, the snobbishness of the business fraternity, and the age old story of a young man telling a girl anything to have his way, then shooting through.  There are certain predictable elements: we know for instance that Patricia will fall for the handsome, smooth talking Jacques, despite the attentions of the solid Felipe, but by the time the film has reached its highly touching if somewhat schmaltzy denouement I was completely persuaded.

The general likeability of most of the characters makes The Well Digger’s Daughter an easy film to engage with. Furthermore, it looks beautiful throughout, the seductive portrait of French rural life augmented by the ubiquitous Alexandre Desplat’s lyrical music. Old-fashioned, lovely to look at, funny, romantic and moving – what more do you want from a film?




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