Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In THE WELL DIGGER'S DAUGHTER, Daniel Auteuil's near-perfect nostaliga melds well with some big, bold and wonderful themes

Eat your heart out, Mr. Eastwood. That splendid French actor Daniel Auteuil has just written and directed his first movie -- THE WELL-DIGGER'S DAUGHTER -- as well as starring in it (this comp-rised his 86th performance in nearly 40 years in front of the camera), and the result is one of the finest films of the year. Interestingly, this is a remake of a classic film, which I think makes all the more remarkable how very well-executed the movie is.

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 this melodramatic genre -- the well-told tale of family, class, love, loss, and reunion. (In fact, he had done it all earlier in his famous Fanny trilogy from the 1930s.) Auteuil, shown at right, has honored the source material completely, I believe, and yet has made, by making use of everything modern film-making can achieve, 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.

TrustMovies felt pretty 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 his film is about as close to old-fashioned perfection as movies get. And I mean this as a huge compliment. While this novice filmmaker makes use of all that fine, up-to-the-minute cinematography and editing can achieve, he also has the sense to keep everything, from the period to the pacing, in tune with a century past -- and with the customs of that century.

Note in particular the dialog in this movie. It's old-fashioned, even quaint, and yet it is given such fine readings by the actors that is always works. It seems not only charming but truthful and real. Even when it gets a bit metaphorical (how long has it been since you've heard immense joy referred to as the sun breaking into a room?), because of the period and the performances, this feels like something precious indeed. (And I mean this in the rich and valuable sense of that word.) Anything else I can say in praise of a movie that so beautifully captures a particular time, place and spirit is but a gloss on the thing itself, so I'll stick, for now, to the first-class cast Auteuil (above, left) has assembled (with himself in the well-digger role).

That cast includes the extremely versatile young actor Nicolas Duvauchelle (below, left, of White MaterialThe Girl on the Train and many other good films), Kad Merad (above, center right, of Paris 36), and those seemingly ever-present (and always welcome) performers Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Sabine Azéma. In the role of the titular daughter Auteuil has cast a young actress, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (at right, below, at bottom and in the three photos above) of such elegant and graceful beauty that she will take your breath away.

The story, as in so much of Pagnol's work, involves love, loss, and the dynamics of family and class, and while you may guess what lies ahead at certain points, this should in no way hinder your enjoyment of an old, old story told exceedingly well.

Kino Lorber has wisely picked up the film (running 107 minutes) for U.S. distribution, and it opens this Friday, July 20, in New York City (at the Quad Cinema and The Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center) and in Seattle at the Landmark Varsity Theater. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates across the country, with cities and theaters listed.


Tamanna Photos said...

It's a great review. You depicted all the factors very well.

James van Maanen said...

Hmmmmm... Good luck in your career, Tamanna. Maybe Bollywood, if it has not stolen this idea already, can remake the movie yet again -- with YOU as the star.