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Cinema Signal: Go! The actress makes this oft-told tale a must see.
. "The Well-Digger's Daughter" (La fille du puisatier)

This film is a reminder of something we were taught in high school: in fiction, there are only 12 original stories -- in the world, for all time. Giving credibility to that assertion is this film because ten minutes into it and it feels like we've seen it before -- yes, with a different cast and a slightly different style -- but maybe hundreds of times. Yet, there seems to be a reason we keep watching them, over and over despite how predictable they are.

A pretty but poor teen-age girl whose father is a stern figure with a staunch code of honor meets a rich, dashing young man who takes a shine to her. Before long, he has taken advantage of her inexperience and fascination with him and knocked her up. But, before he learns that she's pregnant with his child, he's forced to leave town on the instant because of a wartime emergency.

Unable to meet the girl at their pre-determined rendezvous, he tries to get a note to her via his scheming mother. But when the old lady sees the working-class girl awaiting her son, she destroys the note. The effect is that the girl now has a very bad problem.

She's devastated by what she regards a betrayal. She faces disgrace and scandal alone, and is exiled by dad. Word arrives that her lover has been lost in the war, which gives dad's gruff workman and neighbor Felipe Rambert (Kad Merad) the idea that he can woo her. Without telling any more I'm guessing that you know where this is going.

The setting is bucolic paradise in a village of the southern French countryside. Here, in peacetime, nothing much happens but everyone is happy and lodged tightly within their stations in life. Lovely Patricia Amoretti's (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) plight is the biggest thing that's happened since the well ran dry [kidding].

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The French DVD
(multi-region PAL/NTSC format)

The complication is that dad, Pascal Amoretti (actor/director/co-writer Daniel Auteuil), is sometimes employed by lover/flyer boy Jacques Mazel's (Nicolas Duvauchelle) important businessman father (veteran actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and, now, the two families are almost related by having a common grandchild despite the fact that they consider the baby a bastard. (Which tells you young persons reading this something about the period's codes).

Auteuil, playing the harsh loving dad while directing the piece, has a bit of trouble with juggling the masking of a verbose overlord's soft interior with a gruff, outward demeanor and the change to highly opinionated patriarch with all the prejudices and sexism that come with the character. We understand the kind of person he's assaying and his essential function in the story. In the end, his approach works well enough for the desired effect though the film might have benefited by his only acting or only directing.

Though there is not a single development that can't be predicted with 100% accuracy, the charm quotient is enough to make carping about weaknesses seem trivial. Plus, there's a much bigger reason to see "The Well Digger's Daughter!" -- the jewel at the heart of the piece: delightful Berges-Frisbey (the ravishing mermaid Syrena in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides") whose delicate beauty and calm gracefulness is capable of rendering a man speechless. For my money, this actress, a Spanish-French-American mix, can do no wrong.

For the chance to see her again (she hasn't made many feature films), and for the charm the sentimental among us will eat up like sweet bonbons, American audiences should take advantage of the film's U.S. theatrical distribution. You'll just have to adapt to Auteuil's ham-handed effort to make sure you don't miss any plot points in his adaptation from the novel by Marcel Pagnol.

In French with English sub-titles.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Patricia Amoretti
Is this beauty, or what?

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