The Well-Digger's Daughter, PG, 105 mins
In the weeks before World War I erupts, a romance springs up in rural France between a well-digger's daughter and the feckless son of the upwardly mobile Mazels, who own the local grocery. The 18-year-old daughter, Patricia Amoretti (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), has become caregiver to her sisters after her mother died. She's the perfect child, smart, obedient, prettily chaste in her peasant dresses. But rather than settle for Felipe (Kad Merad), the pal of her dignified, humble, strict-ish father, Pascal (Daniel Auteuil, also making his directorial debut), Patricia can't shake the suave cad, Jacques (Nicolas Duvauchelle). War arrives, and both Felipe and Jacques head off to fight.
It's based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol, who wrote Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, so warm sunshine endlessly bathes rippling fields and rows of olives, and the manoeuvring that gets Patricia away from Felipe and with Jacques during an airshow is delightful. Merad is more often a comic actor, and lends a lightness to the outclassed but ever-hopeful Felipe, who Patricia's younger, plainer sister is, of course, silently sweet on. Auteuil takes Pascal seamlessly through a father's voyage through pride, shame, anger and back, while Sabine Azema and Jean-Pierre Darroussin are perfect as Jacques' vain, overprotective mother and long-suffering father.
The ending might be a little sugary for some but the film's bedrock-solid acting and airtight script make it a story to fall into.
- © Fairfax NZ News