Sundrenched French nostalgia for a Provençal tale by Pagnol

This is my review of The Well-Digger’s Daughter [DVD].

Set in the sundrenched Provence countryside near the town of Salon at the outbreak of World War 2, this soft-centred but often surprisingly moving tale follows the well-worn trail of the innocent young girl who falls for a wealthy cad. In this case, Patricia, daughter of a simple but fiercely proud well-digger finds herself pregnant after Jacques, spoiled son of the owner of the local hardware store, has been sent off to fight at the front. How will her father react when he learns that his "angelic princess" is no better than other girls? Will Jacques's doting mother feel her son should "do the decent thing" and marry the girl? As the well-digger observes, "You can't trust people who sell tools but don't use them."

Patricia is more than just a pretty face. In addition to receiving a period of education in Paris with a wealthy benefactor, she has a strong sense of honesty and integrity which may pierce Jacques's worldly cynicism, although you wonder whether he would be capable of being faithful to her in the long run.

There are some entertaining further plot twists in the dogged devotion to Patricia of Félipe,assistant to the well-digger Pascal. In turn, Félipe is loved in longsuffering silence by Patricia's younger sister Amanda. Then there is Pascal's blend of shrewdness and stubborn stupidity, his rueful shouldering of the burden of six daughters after his wife's death.

We see an exploration of some of the dilemmas of French rural society. It is shameful for a daughter to have a bastard child, yet a man's dearest wish is to have a boy child to bear his surname, even if at one remove as a grandson….

The film is well-directed by the respected French actor Daniel Auteuil who also plays the role of the well-digger, apparently drawing on his native southern accent. Although his acting may seem a little over the top at times, I have met Frenchmen prone to the vivid expression of such deep and rapid shifts of emotion.

Recommended as a watchable and entertaining if lightweight drama.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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