Life remains timelessly simple for Pascal (director Daniel Auteuil), a widowed well digger who plays the hard-working patriarch for his six daughters in the south of France. But when on the eve of WWI, his saintly eldest daughter, Patricia (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), spurns well-meaning Félipe (Kad Merad) to steal off with (and become preggers by) playboy pilot Jacques (Nicolas Duvauchelle), Pascal’s grip on the swiftly changing world begins to slip. What follows is a soapy progression of missed messages and melodramatic confrontations, as Jacques disappears behind enemy lines, the besieged father banishes his disreputable daughter, and class feuds with Patricia’s wealthy would-be in-laws (Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Sabine Azéma) ensue.
For his directorial debut, the majestically schnozzed French star remakes Marcel Pagnol’s 1940 Provençal comedy as a suspect sentimental journey. Twice removed from the era it depicts, the film views the deeply patriarchal Pascal as a lovable old coot whose misogyny is not just culturally, historically and adorably forgivable, but heroic. (Child abandonment apparently becomes an act of principle in an unprincipled age.) Bergès-Frisbey and Duvauchelle make for a deliciously ripe pair—their cheekbones defy both gravity and sound facial architecture—but Auteuil is less interested in young lust than old world values: Vivre the land, labor, and latent anti-Semitism! Having dug his own deep well, he can lie in it all he wants.
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