Pascal Amoretti: She isn't a daughter, she's a treasure from the Good Lord.~ from The Well-Digger's Daughter (2012)The south of France has never looked so beautiful as it does in The Well-Digger's Daughter, based upon the work of the twentieth century French writer Marcel Pagnol.The great Daniel Auteuil directs this cinematic masterpiece, as well as playing Pascal Amoretti, the well-digger with six daughters. The film celebrates not only the luscious countryside but the power of familial and parental love in overcoming hardships brought on by youthful transgressions. Auteuil's Pascal is like a hard-working, long-suffering French St. Joseph, a working man with humble dignity and a noble heart, who tempers justice with mercy. Interlaced with the sound of the leaves whispering in the breeze are the tones of Cardillo's Core n'grato, which will break your heart along with the storyline.
In the words of the late Roger Ebert:
In the south of France, before World War I, we meet a hard-working well-digger named Pascal Amoretti (Daniel Auteuil), whose wife dies, leaving him with six daughters. A rich Parisian woman becomes impressed by the second oldest, Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), and pays for her to come to Paris and attend a convent school. At 18, with a cultured Parisian accent and stylish clothes, she returns home to help her father with the girls. Our first glimpse is of her running happily through flowers in a field.
Patricia is all heart, all true, all warm. The more we like her, the more we care. Her father would like her to marry his longtime employee, Felipe (Kad Merad), who is happy enough to go along with the plan but so genial that he would do anything to accommodate his boss. Felipe gets a tiny new car and takes Patricia to town, and there she meets Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the dashing son of a local "rich man." By rich is meant that his father owns the general store.
It is love at first sight, but given the temps and the mores, a romance between them would violate class barriers. Still, after Patricia sees Jacques flying his biplane in a little air show, she speaks to him, and he spirits her away on his motorcycle. They both are clearly smitten. All this happens in a charming Provencal countryside, with dusty lanes and rolling hills.
Class differences are all important. Patricia is a good girl, but like many good girls, she becomes pregnant, just as Jacques is called up by the French air force and sent to fly in Africa — literally overnight. Through one of those misunderstandings that are crucial to melodrama, Patricia believes he has left without saying goodbye. When good, simple Felipe offers his hand in marriage, she confesses her condition to him.
Her father erupts. In a scene of great fragility and tension, he dresses all his girls in their Sunday best and presents them to Monsieur and Madame Mazel (Sabine Azema and Jean-Pierre Darroussin), who are unmoved. Jacques' mother is the real problem; she is a dictatorial monster with an almost unnatural love for her son, and believes there is no possibility of the invaluable Mazel genes mixing with the Amorettis' miserable, working-class, well-digging genes.The Well-Digger's Daughter is not only one of the most beautiful films I have seen in a long time but one of the most innocent. Auteuil brilliantly captures passion and sensuality without the help of bare flesh, as only a great artist can do. The only thing about the film which confuses me is that the costumes look as if the story is set in the late 1930's rather than the 1914 outbreak of World War I. For 1914, the skirts needed to be a bit longer. Aside from that peculiarity, the sets are authentic to the time and place, which is not surprising since it was filmed on location. Most inspiring is that the dignity of the working man, Pascal, comes not from material wealth or social welfare programs or the government but from within his valiant soul. He is a man of honor and integrity, who embraces faith and virtue. Such qualities make him a prince of a man, even when he is covered with mud and grime.
Daniel Auteuil (you remember him as the busy father in "Cache") makes a rock-solid Pascal. Heavier and more work-worn than we've seen him, he has a face that embodies love and great probity; this is not a man to make hasty decisions or to easily change his mind. Patricia, now described as a "lost girl," is dispatched to live with his sister, where she gives birth to a son. (Read more.)