Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Well Digger's Daughter (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Well Digger's Daughter

"The Well Digger's Daughter" is in the tradition of those masterful films  "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring." It is directed by Daniel Auteuil who also  stars as the vengeful and controlling father Pascal Amoretti. Auteuil knows just the right mix to give his character: an obsessive compulsive Alpha but altogether loving man, not without his endearments. Amoretti is sometimes put upon and stuck in the middle of social obligations. At such times this film is humorous and almost seems like a French "Meet the Parents" but it also has enough hard luck and tension to rival Thomas Hardy.

In Pre-WWII France, we have the young Patricia ( Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who is like a Snow White or a Tess. Her skin is like the sunflower and her lips glow incarnadine. She is a bit reckless too, in keeping with most French heroines. Everyday she crosses a river to get home. Enter Jacques, (Nicolas Duvauchelle) a blonde aristocrat, his face unnaturally pale. This man owns the river and demands obedience at first. No this isn't "Twilight of the Spring", don't worry. As nature progresses, ladykiller Jacques gives our pre-Raphaelite hottie a ride on his motorbike. 

Meanwhile, the older and clumsy Felipe (Kad Merad) pressures old man Amoretti to give him the honor of marriage. Amoretti agrees. Thrilled, Felipe plans to pop the question during a picnic at an airshow.
But Patricia and Jacques have sultry and stealthy alternate plans and she sneaks away.

Things get steamy in the rustic workroom.

Suffice to say Jacques is a bit of a cad and he is more than a little distant, a warm twin of Eric Packer in "Cosmopolis". Jacques is a daring Gatsby to be sure but he is also quite eerie. 

Yes, this has all the trappings of a Gothic twist of the heart. But it also has its moments of madcap comedy, notably in the scenes where Felipe is at a cafe, ordering copious cocktails to propose. He becomes more and more Chaplinesque and painfully polite and we know it's hopeless.

Back at home, Amoretti learns of the tryst, and he becomes pridefully enraged thinking that Jacques has pre-meditatively gone off to war, making a fool of him.

There is a letter of explanation, but Jacques' mother ( Sabine Azema) is a hyperbolic and slinky witch and burns the letter. This sets off a whole chain of Rage with Patricia feeling more and more guilty and the patriarch getting more incensed with indignation.

This film is pitch perfect, well balanced in pathos and hilarity. Amoretti is lovable and lunatic, soft and scary, but never cartoonish. Within Auteuil's face we can see the miles of memory and his hopes for an ancestral immortality.

And you won't find a more vibrant and handsomely produced film this week. It is nothing less than a panoramic Renoir painting in motion. For those of you who crave an old-fashioned family melodrama of amber avarice and  leering light, you will be grandly pleased with "The Well Digger's Daughter".

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