Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Well Digger's Daughter

Reviews - The Well Digger's Daughter

The Well Digger's Daughter

Reviewed By John Stakes

The Well Digger's Daughter
The Well Digger's Daughter
Last Sunday’s film, the first of the spring season, gave the club’s patrons the opportunity to forget, for a couple of hours at least, all the whirling windy mizzle, hail and drizzle of the past few weeks here in Keswick as they were whisked away to arguably the most appealing and beautifully sunny part of France, Provence for Daniel Auteuil’s directorial debut with his 2011 “The Well Digger’s Daughter”.

There is always the danger when romantic dramas are set in stunning scenery that the cinematography triumphs over everything (remember the yawningly awful but beautiful “Under the Tuscan Sun” starring Diane Lane?) and, to a certain extent, Auteuil seemed happy to fall into this trap with his 1940s tale of the attraction of youth across the social divide set against the backdrop of Provence’s rugged hinterland, lush meadows and gentle breezes as France was about to join the war.

Whenever you are told that the central character is a widowed well-digging father of six girls, it’s not difficult to work out where the story is heading. A dashing hormonally charged male pilot appears from the ultra-smooth flowing river-bank to toy with the eighteen years’ old and most beautiful of the well-digger’s daughters. Your expectations are confirmed when you learn that said daughter Patricia’s defences amount to no more than a spell in a Parisian catholic convent school and the knowledge gained from being a mermaid in “Pirates of the Caribbean”!

So sure enough Patricia finds herself pregnant and the lusty putative father Jacques in natty uniform (to remind us there is a war now on after all) is whisked away to fight for his country if not his honour before he’s had time to reflect upon his manly responsibilities.

What is the proud and honourable Pascal to do with his errant eldest? Wealthy Jacques’ shop-keeping parents think Patricia appears more of a gold-digger than a well-digger’s assistant, and Pascal (Auteuil) is so overcome by shame that he decides to banish his daughter to her aunt’s house to give birth. With fighter pilot Jacques now shot down and missing believed dead the focus switches to Pascal and how he may be persuaded to come to terms with his daughter’s fall from the saintly pedestal on which he’d put her. This gentle morality story is predictably played out in the dusky grassy meadows. Patricia gives birth to the first boy in Pascal’s life, Jacques’ family gain a sense of values, and Jacques himself eventually returns to cast off his rakish charms and declare his true love for Patricia to enable them to wed for all the right reasons.

There was never, whilst the sun continued to shine (and it did, incessantly), the remotest possibility that real life was ever likely to intervene and spoil the idyllic charm of a heart-warming and entirely irrelevant take on French rustic life at the outbreak of hostilities. These were being played out somewhere at the other end of the beautiful steam-train filled railway line that wandered through the tree lined groves. Pascal was given a lot of amusingly silly lines until Jacques’ eventual return and everyone could then live happily ever after which is what most of them had been doing anyway.

Auteuil, a lover of his fellow countryman Marcel Pagnol’s work, deftly revealed his ability to capture the rustic charm of Pagnol’s original (and much longer) film “La Fille du Puisatier” and peopled his film with the sort of homespun characters who would have been at home in “Darling Buds of May”. The screenplay, also by Auteuil, was light and witty throughout matched by his own delicate camera work which only let him down when Jacques re-appeared. This film was like eating your favourite dessert and was savoured by a near-capacity audience which seemed to love every sun-kissed moment. There was an audible groan when the returning Jacques took Patricia outside to tell her he did not love her, pause and then to say he was only kidding. What an endearing cad!

Auteuil is currently working on re-making Pagnol’s trilogy “Marius”, “Fanny” and “Cesar” so we can look forward to more such uncomplicated pleasures no doubt. In the meantime the club has lined up a feast of contrasting film fare for the rest of the season to tempt patrons out on dark winter evenings, but none is likely to come close to capturing the therapeutic warmth of Auteuil’s joyfully breezy debut.

The evening’s jollifications were preceded by a warm round of applause for Tom Rennie on his decision to take on the running of the Alhambra (with effect from March) and the retention of the cinema’s facilities for use by the Club. We are all deeply grateful.

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19th Keswick Film Festival

22nd-25th February 2018


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