The Well-Digger’s Daughter

Alison JamesAlison's Commentary

This captivating movie, The Well-Digger’s Daughter, set in Provence, France, is a feast for the eyes and the senses. It tells the story of an eighteen year old who, after her mother’s death, is taking care of her five sisters and father. Daniel Auteuil plays the father and directs the movie, and he gives a whole-hearted performance centered around his love and honor. This is a remake of Marcel Pagnol’s 1940 classic La fille du puisatier, but this time the story takes place in a pre World War II provincial and class-belabored setting.

Movies like this are rare and how timely it is for us with its focus on love. What at first looks to be a bucolic frolic quickly becomes a poignant look at love and familial relationships. When the daughter shatters her father’s idealized vision of her, he says: “I thought you were an angel”. The circumstances and interplay of the characters give us wonderful illustrations of love in all its forms:

Familial love: this close-knit family pulls together to survive and the daughter pitches in to take care of her younger sisters and her father.

Agape or brotherly love
: the love between friends is well demonstrated here between the father and his male friend.

First love: we watch the daughter falling in love and her infatuation with a young man, the son of a rich merchant.  His gallant and romantic gesture triggers their ensuing tryst and sexual, but the daughter’s naivete is soon replaced with guilt, fear and longing.

Parental love: the protective love of the father for his daughter centers around protection, possession and authority but becomes blurred by honor, pride and hypocrisy.

The absence of love
: the longing and pain of physical separation, abandonment and even death are explored through the interweavings of  this engaging story line.

Unrequited love: this is a very humbling experience for more than one character in the story.

Patient love: the love that waits for the right time to step forward for the right partner, requiring faith, trust and forbearance. The performances are  quite stirring in this regard.

Selfless love: putting the love of another before oneself – watch the father’s friend, the person who is not the center of attention.

Unconditional love: the love that knows no bounds, no matter the circumstance, is also portrayed with great sensitivity by the father’s friend.

Forgiveness: the love that brings about acceptance and puts opposition aside, is inspirational in several characters.

Righteous love: the love that does the right thing for the highest good for all.

The power of love that ultimately unites, brings joy and shared pleasure.

The love that asks “is it better to be right or be happy?” The practical side of love is here too.

Self love: the love and recognition to stand up for an individual’s rights (in this instance a woman’s rights) demonstrated by the father’s sister.

And the love of life itself, triggered by the birth of a baby – and such a beautiful baby! – releases old fetters of pride, judgment, hypocrisy and resentment to bring healing.

Through a broad gamut of relationships, we witness that when love is allowed its natural expression, it brings happiness. Through love, duty becomes freely offered service to another, integrity is practiced not just believed, responsibility is chosen and a family name is not more important than life itself. The use of white gloves in the movie becomes a symbol for the offering of an olive branch and restoration of peace.  Hearts soften and love is the prize. Beautifully demonstrated here, love is its own reward and brings a happy ending.