Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rendez-vous: Daniel Auteuil's directing debut THE WELL DIGGER'S DAUGHTER

Joining the ranks of the must-sees at this year's Rendez-vous comes the film that is the directing debut of one of France's finest actors, Daniel Auteuil. I was certain that, after acting in nearly 100 roles in films, TV movies and mini-series, Auteuil had by now directed a movie or two. But no: According to the IMDB, this is his first. The fellow has clearly been learning on the job, however, for THE WELL DIGGER'S DAUGHTER is about as close to old-fashioned perfection as movies get. And I mean this as a huge compliment. There are only two screenings during Rendez-vous, but don't worry if you can't procure a seat: Kino Lorber has wisely picked up the film for U.S. distribution, so there'll be plenty of opportunity down the road. In fact, the distributor has asked that reviews be held until the film's theatrical release. And so, in the spirit of Jafar Panahi, this is not a review. Just a few fumbled words of praise for a movie that so beautifully captures a particular time, place and spirit.

The Well Digger's Daughter is a remake of the much-loved Marcel Pagnol film from 1940, and writer/director Pagnol was a master of his genre -- the well-told tale of family, class, love, loss, and reunion. (In fact, he had done it all earlier with his famous Fanny trilogy from the 1930s.) Auteuil has honored the source material completely, I believe, and yet has made a movie for today. And maybe forever. If I had to choose a film for immediate-classic status -- becoming a hit now yet standing the test of time -- I'd bet on this one.

Auteuil (above, left) has rounded up a first-class cast and directed them (with himself in the well-digger role) and the story (he also did the scenario and adaptation) with an eye to... well, just about everything a director needs to consider: photography, pacing, style, performance. What an impressive achievement this film is! That cast includes the extremely versatile young actor Nicolas Duvauchelle (below, left, of White Material, The Girl on the Train and many more), Kad Merad, Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Sabine Azéma. In the role of the titular daughter he has cast a young actress, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (at right both below and above) of such elegant and graceful beauty that she will take your breath away.

Enough! I'll have plenty more to say when the film opens theatrically--and soon, I hope. For now it plays Rendez-vous Thursday, March 8, at 8pm at the IFC Center and Sunday, March 11 at 3:45pm at the Walter Reade. Jean-Pierre Darroussin will appear in person at both screenings.

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