Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Well Digger's Daughter (orig. La Fille du Puisatier) [2011]

MPAA (Unrated)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

The Well Digger's Daughter (orig. La Fille du Puisatier) screenplay/directed by Daniel Auteuil based on the novel and 1940 film by Marcel Pagnol [IMDb] is a film-lover's movie.  French language/English subtitled, the story is set in rural Provence (southeastern France) at the onset World War I.  As has often been the case with French films recalling the era, just about every single shot in the film could have been the subject of a painting by one-or-another of the French Impressionists [Galleries].  Due to the film's "Provençal location" the film's shots probably most resemble the works of Camille Pissarro [Galleries] and especially Paul Cézanne [Gallery]). 

The film then concerns itself with a typically French theme of the era, class differences.  Contemporary viewers will certainly notice this but will also be immediately aware of the era's gender dynamics (very different from today) and even discern a surprising (and perhaps utterly unintentional but IMHO very interesting) pro-Life message.  So a Catholic family watching this film would actually get quite a lot out of it ;-)

How then does the story set itself up?  Eighteen year old Patricia Amoretti (played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey who younger American viewers may recognize as "the mermaid" of the last Pirates of the Caribbean [2011] movie) is the oldest of five daughters of a lowly well-digger and widower named Pascal Amoretti (played by the film's director Daniel Auteuil).  Since she was the oldest of five daughters (no sons) in the Amoretti clan, she had actually been raised away at a convent school relatively far away after a lady of some means had passed through the town when she was younger and had felt sorry for the family's "misfortune" of having so many girls.  Patricia away at that convent school meant one less burden / one less mouth to feed in the Amoretti household.  But alas Patricia's mother died and so Patricia, the oldest daughter had to return to help raise her younger sisters ...

We meet Patricia carrying lunch to her father and his assistant, Félipe Rembert (played by Kad Merad), who are working to clean a well somewhere far outside of town.  I suppose noting Félipe's last name is important here because it can serve to indicate that while Félipe is Pascal's assistant, he's "not a child," indeed appears to be far closer in age to Pascal than to Patricia...

Anyway, on her way to bring lunch to her father and Félipe, Patricia runs into another, younger, man named Jacques Mazel (played by Nicolas Duvauchelle).  He too is older than Patricia, but far closer to her age.  He's the grown son of M. and Mme. Mazel (played by Jean-Pierre Darrourssin and Sabine Azéma respectively), the owners of the mercantile shop "in town," and it appears that he's just outdoors relaxing under a tree by a stream because, well, he has the time / leisure to do so.  Good looking, suave, "dashing," we find out later that he was back home "on leave" from the air corps.

Jacques is certainly genereoux in helping Patricia to cross the stream without getting her feet wet.  Patricia didn't exactly want his help, but it did save her the hassle of unlacing her rather complicated late 19th century/early 20th century shoes, crossing the stream, barefoot, herself (carrying both shoes and stew across the stream) and then putting on and lacing-up the shoes again.  So the thus two "meet," not exactly by choice or "on equal footing..." But the help in crossing the stream both on her way to her father's work and back (Jacques, again, on leave with apparently "all the time in the world" ... perhaps made it a point to stay around the stream long enough to conveniently help Patricia cross the stream again on her way home ...) proved to be at least a time-saver for Patricia as well.

Tres bien ... That evening, back at Pascal Amoretti's home, Félipe talks to Pascal knowing that Pascal is worried about "marrying-off" all these daughters of his and asks if it'd be okay to take Patricia out on a date.  He had just bought an (old) car and has tickets for a nearby airshow.  Pascal's known him for years.  He knows that his intentions are honorable and, well, if things went well, then Patricia would come to have a husband of at least the same economic stature as her father.  Pascal gives Félipe permission to talk to his daughter.  She accepts if not particularly enthusiastically (again Félipe is significantly older than she is) but at least he is "a nice guy."  Patricia's next oldest sister Amanda (played by Emilie Cazenave) noticing Patricia's lack of enthusiasm tells her later that evening: "When you let Félipe down, do so gently because I kinda like him."

So the next day Félipe comes over to the Amoretti house with his nice used car and takes Patricia to the airshow.  Guess who is the show's Star...?  Félipe, who doesn't know that Patricia had met Jacques the other day at the stream while carrying that lunch for him and her father, reintroduces the two of them at the air show.  Smiling, debonaire, Jacques looks even better in his uniform... After the show, poor Félipe takes Patricia back to town to a café.  Very nice, but on the way back from the café,  he can't get his car started.  Who comes by?  Jacques on a motorbike.  Poor Félipe asks his friend Jacques to take Patricia home.  Smiling Jacques, goggles on, wind blowing in his face, Patricia with her arms around his chest ... takes the long way home.  They watch a nice sunset by a small lake ... He drops her off, asks her to meet him the next by a Church...

When he comes home however, Jacques finds that the French army needs him to leave immediately, at that time for Africa, but the first scents of War are appearing.  In anycase, he doesn't make it to the Church.  He's already gone but leaves his mother with a letter to deliver to Patricia.  Mme. Mezal takes one look at Patricia standing by that Church and sees simply a fair-looking girl of modest means who's probably trying to take advantage of her son and never introduces herself to her or deliver his note.

This then is the setup to the rest of the story.  As the reader here would probably guess, Jacques and Patricia did a bit more out there at that beautiful lakeside than watch the sunset...  Patricia soon finds that she's pregnant.  What to do?  Pascal Amoretti dresses himself and his five daughters including Patricia up and takes them to town to the Mezals.  Of course, the Mezals play dumb.  "How do we know that Patricia's child is Jacques'?  If we had to count every two bit girl in this region that's tried to hit on our good-looking son with an eye on our family's money... Don't get us wrong, we feel (a bit) sorry for you, but we don't believe you.  And we're not going to bother our son with this, who, by the way, is now off at war defending France ..."

On the way home, Pascal tells Patricia to pack her bags and go to his sister's: "She did silly things too when she was young ..."  She packs her bags and leaves the next day...  And at that time one would have expected that this would have been largely the end of Patricia's story.

BUT ... the story does continue...  Sometime the following year, poor ole Félipe comes back from the front.  Yes, he was close to something like 40 years old, but World War I was a war for national survival for France, so even someone like him was fighting.  Together with Amanda, he goes to visit Patricia.  And they come back home to Pascal to tell him that she has had her child.  Pascal initially doesn't want to hear anything about it.  She's dead to him.  BUT ... they tell him that SHE'S HAD A SON.  "So what?  He's a b... afterall."  BUT ... precisely because he's a b..., guess what BY LAW has to be his last name?  Amoretti.  Pascal, who had previously "mourned" his "misfortune" of having only daughters and thus not being able to pass on his name NOW, by the "misfortune" of his eldest daughter getting pregnant out of wedlock GETS TO PASS ON HIS NAME BY WAY OF HIS GRANDSON ;-)

So a few days later, there's Pascal with Amanda and Félipe heading off to see Patricia and her toddler son.  And Pascal now takes her and his grandson home.

BUT ... the story goes on.  Some months later, the Mezals come calling.  It turns out that their son Jacques had been shot down over the battlefield and the report was that his plane crashed in flames presumably killing him.  NOW THE ONLY THING THAT THEY HAVE LEFT OF JACQUES is HIS and Patricia's child.  So they come "hat in hand" to apologize to Patricia and Pascal and offering to help in his upbringing.  Initially Pascal tells them "we don't need your help."  But they really do.

FINALLY, it ends even better than that.  How?  I've written out already enough of the story, so I'll leave at least that point for some suspense...

WHAT I REALLY LIKED ABOUT THIS MOVIE besides the beautiful scenery and good-ole fashioned film-making, was its surprisingly Pro-Life message here.  Today in similar circumstances, a lot of Patricias would have gotten abortions.  Yet that utterly unplanned child actually helped two families.  Pascal finally got a grandson and a means to pass on his name.  And through this child, Jacques left his own parents someone after him.

The scenario recalls a similar scenario that played out in an American film, The Cider House Rules [1999], set in the context of World War II.  In that movie, a young adult couple finding itself facing an unplanned pregnancy, had searched out a doctor to perform an abortion.  After his fiancee had the abortion, the boyfriend went off to war only to return sometime later in a wheelchair.  The child that the couple had aborted would have been their only child ...

So inconvenient "unplanned pregnancies" can have their purpose.  In this French film, we see a pregnancy that was initially considered a "disaster" by just about everyone becomes the vehicle that fulfilled the highest aspirations of just about everyone.  What a nice (and surprising) message!

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

No comments:

Post a Comment