Rustic Setting. Era-Appropriate Clothing and Music. Measured and Thoughtful Pace. Daniel Auteuli’s The Well Digger’s Daughter, an adaptation of the 1940 film of the same name by Marcel Pagnol, ticks all of the expected boxes in this workmanlike period melodrama set during the early stages of the Second World War.
As well as directing and adapting the screenplay, Autelli also stars as the widowed father of five daughters, who works long hours as a well digger to support them. It’s clear that the favorite of his children is the beautiful and innocent eighteen year old Patricia (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). While the father encourages his well-meaning friend and co-worker to court Patricia, she encounters a pilot from a wealthy family (Nicolas Duvauchelle), and a fleeting romance ensues. The consequences of this rendezvous are significant for the young lovers families, who occupy very different tiers on the social ladder.
The direction is efficient and done with a minimum of pretension, with events unfolding in an unhurried manner. The film in this sense is quite old-fashioned, it carries itself with an understated confidence and slowly draws the viewer into the world that it is depicting. But the end result is a rather unremarkable experience. The Well Digger’s Daughter is almost indistinguishable from the raft of historical dramas that populate the cinema and TV screens in any given year, and Auteuli does little to make his effort stand out.
On the acting front, the cast is generally strong across the board, with the weakest link unfortunately been Astrid Bergès-Frisbey in the crucial role of Patricia. She struggles with to convey the range of emotions that her character is conceivably going through as she deals with the unfortunate hand dealt to her by life, coming across as shallow and vapid where the film requires her to express youthful naivety.
The real star of the show is in fact the cinematography. Set in the south of France, seeing the countryside bathed in sunlight was stunning to view at the cinema, and every frame of the film is bathed in a colorful and nostalgic glow which is very pleasing to the eye.
If you’ve seen the trailer or posters for The Well Digger’s Daughter, there’s not much in the way of surprises to be had, but it does deliver on what it promises: an adequate traditional French melodrama.
The Well Digger’s Daughter will be in theatrically release in Australia on 5 April through Madman Films.