Daniel Auteil has been one of France’s top stars for decades, and perhaps got his biggest international exposure playing Ugolin in Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources in the mis-80s. Those films were both adapted from novels by Marcel Pagnol, and Auteil has chosen a 1940 film by the same man to remake as his feature-film directorial debut. Indeed Auteil must feel a true affinity with Pagnol, as he’s currently writing, directing and starring in three films under the title La Trilogie Marseillaise, based on stories by the author.
The Well Digger’s Daughter in set in France just before the First World War and follows Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who is the titular offspring of a well digger, whose father places her on a pedestal. However she promptly get knocked up by a local, comparatively well-to-do young gent, who almost immediately gets called off to war and shortly thereafter is believed to have been killed. This being the early part of the 20th Century, the well digger himself, Pascal (Auteil), isn’t too chuffed about his eldest daughter growing ‘un batârd’ in her womb and disowns her. However once the child is born, he begins to change his mind.
It’s a pleasant trip into rural period France, but to be honest the story itself feels a bit old hat. From the moment the young woman realises she’s in the family way, the tale holds few surprises as it winds its way from outrage to acceptance and beyond. When Pagnol made the original movie in 1940, there weren’t many unwed mothers and dealing with them on film was pretty rare, but nowadays the template The Well Digger’s Daughter falls into feels rather overplayed and Auteil finds little in it that we haven’t seen before.
That said, he does manage to bring charm to the proceedings as both an actor and director, but his by-the-numbers screenplay gives proceedings a slightly TV feel. That’s not to say it’s bad, as the acting is good, the landscapes incredibly pretty and Auteil holds everything together, but there is a sense this isn’t everything it could be. However if you’re after something sweet, slightly old-fashioned and not too taxing, The Well Digger’s Daughter fits the bill.
Overall Verdict: Despite a story that’s been done to death, The Well Digger’s Daughter is charming if rather lightweight.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac