THE WELL-DIGGER'S DAUGHTER
★★★★ out of four stars
Unrated; mature themes. In subtitled French.
This French romance is so fine that enthusiastic word of mouth should soon persuade people put off by the lackluster title. It's classical moviemaking of a sort rarely seen now, a love story of surprising joy with rounded, flawed but humane characters.
At the start of World War I, the young village beauty, Patricia (stunning Astrid Berges-Frisbey), reaches the age where her gruff, warm papa (Daniel Auteuil) hopes to marry her off. The well-digger's good-hearted assistant, Felipe (Kad Merad), humbly courts her, little suspecting that her heart belongs to wellborn Jacques (Nicholas Duvauchelle). But the gentleman pilot and the rural girl belong to circles whose edges are not allowed to overlap. Jacques and Felipe leave for the war, with Patricia worrying over issues of death (and birth) on the home front.
The standard crises arrive on cue, but the film embraces their corny predictability and sweeps us along happily. Auteuil, an effortlessly engaging actor, fills his directing debut with wonderful performers. Even when his characters are selfish or pigheaded, it's hard to dislike them, and the light melodrama passes like an errant cloud on a sunny afternoon. The film is set in glorious Provence, but it exists in a magical land where everything goes right, for the characters, the filmmakers and the audience.SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
★★★ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and drug references.
Sometimes lack of familiarity with the subject of a documentary can hamper your enjoyment. In "Searching for Sugar Man," it's helpful. The film's focus is Sixto Rodriguez, a 1970s Detroit balladeer who never found fame in his own country. Through a quirk of fate his two LPs became massive hits in apartheid South Africa, sparking government bans on his recordings.
Rodriguez knew nothing of his Dylanesque Cape Town fame, and since his African fans had no information about the reclusive singer/songwriter, urban legends flourished. According to one juicy anecdote, he shot himself while performing for a barroom audience. Another version had him self-immolating in concert, a showman to the last.
Decoding the personality and fate of this vanished underground hero gives Malik Bendjelloul's film the shape of a detective mystery. There are interviews with shady, self-justifying music executives, obsessive middle-aged fans and rueful record producers. If you don't know the upshot of the search, you'll appreciate Bendjelloul's dexterity in shuffling and dealing out the facts of the case. If you do know how it all turned out, you may be perturbed by the way he edits his story for emotional impact above factual completeness. In any case, the film is an electrifying illustration of music's power to inspire and change lives on both sides of the footlights.