The Well Digger’s Daughter Review

In 1986 Daniel Auteuil won the César Award for his role of Ugolin in Claude Berri’s distinctly beautiful and charming film Jean de Florette. Now, more than twenty five years later, Auteuil has returned to rural France for his directorial debut with The Well Digger’s Daughter.

The narrative of the lost girl, her bastard child and the departure of the ignorant young man for war are plot devices present within both films. Yet Auteuil’s new film, full of the same beauty and charm found in Jean de Florette, is an accomplished directorial debut owing to his intention and success in recreating the past, rather than imitating it.

The Well Digger’s Daughter is effectively constructed around flaws of the human condition and, more specifically, the burden of the old on the youth in matters of love.

The point Auteuil is trying to make is summed up by Jean-Pierre Darroussin’s character Mazel: “Love and serve, that’s all the old can do for the young.”

These charming types of films the French make so well are known for their poetic dialogue, and Auteuil skilfully uses speech to express his characters ideologies as well as observations of human nature

Oft arriving in the form of quick fire exchanges that are so succinct they don’t compromise the pace of the film, nor derail the story Auteuil wants to tell; which, in essence, is the old should not complicate the youthful rights of passage all that young men and women go through.

The charm of The Well Digger’s Daughter is in part indebted to the dialogue, moments of conflict full of beautifully poetic exchanges, such as Auteuil’s character Pascal use of the changing seasons as a metaphor to explain his daughter’s pregnancy to the other soon to be grandfather Mazel.

Auteuil’s delightful capacity for sheer humorous irrationality and eccentricity is on full display here. And to his credit as an actor, along with Alexandre Desplat’s at times foreboding score, he also manages to create a sense of paranoia which creates doubt as to the possibility of a happy ending.

Watching The Well Digger’s Daughter reminded me of Billy Wilder’s fatalistic take on Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine’s romance in The Apartment, only to later reverse his opinion in Charlotte Chandler’s book Nobody’s Perfect.

I can’t help but think that Auteuil is giving us the alternative happy ending to his original outing in the French countryside.

Paul Risker

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February 2012
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