They don't make movies like they used to. Except when they do: "The Well-Digger's Daughter," a remake of novelist-filmmaker's Marcel Pagnol's 1940 feature, is also the directorial debut of popular actor Daniel Auteuil, who achieved his initial American fame with Claude Berri's 1986 adaptations of Pagnol's "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring." Auteuil is not about to tamper with formula, especially when that formula provides such ripe opportunity for actors. Himself among them.
The plot, which was probably old when Balzac was a boy, involves the much-daughtered widower and well-digger Pascale Amoretti (Auteuil) and his favorite, Patricia (the strikingly lovely Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who was taken under the wing of a rich Parisian at age 6, educated in a convent school and returned to her father after the death of said benefactress.
Patricia is beautiful, modest, refined and a sitting duck for the handsome (but somewhat shifty-looking) Jacques (Nicolas DuVauchelle), a pilot in the French air force who seduces Patricia and then is suddenly called away to Africa before learning that Patricia is, in fact, expecting. He has given his mother (Sabine Azema) a letter for Patricia. Mom has burned the letter. And Jacques has crashed his plane in Germany.
Despite the title, Auteuil's film is really the well-digger's story: Pascale, rebuffed by Jacques' mother and father (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) when he presents the case to them, sends his daughter away lest she shame the family; this is, after all, a bygone era. But the birth of Patricia's son -- as the arrival of children will do -- changes everything. And while the denouement of "The Well-Digger's Daughter" is about as fresh as yesterday's baguette, what resonates is a sense of humanity that sometimes gets lost in films with less regard for traditional storytelling, or respect for simple emotion.
PLOT Earthy Frenchman has to adjust when one of his many daughters is impregnated by an airman who then flies off into World War I. Unrated
CAST Daniel Auteuil, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Kad Merad, Jean-Pierre Darroussin
PLAYING AT Sag Harbor Cinema
BOTTOM LINE Old-fashioned, sentimental and -- oui -- moving. (In French with English subtitles)