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1798. In a forest, some countrymen catch a wild child who can not walk, speak, read nor write. Doctor Itard is interested by the child, and starts to educate him. Everybody thinks he will fail, but with a lot of love and patience, he manages to obtain results and the child continues with normal development. This is based on true story. Written by
Truffaut remained true to Dr. Itard's written accounts in most respects. A few variations are: (1) Victor was not stark naked when first captured; he had the shreds of a shirt around his neck. (2) Victor's hair would have been much longer, because he was indifferent to hygiene or how he looked. (3) Jean Itard was merely a young medical student, while the film suggests that he was on an equal basis with Pinel. (4) Madame Guerin became almost a mother to Victor, always attending to him, whereas the film suggests that she merely helped to train him and to clean up after him. (5) Itard would rub Victor's back to relax and comfort him, but then had to worry about sexual responses. Victor also often wet his bed, but Itard never punished him; he decided to allow Victor to learn whether he preferred to lie in a wet bed or to get up to relieve himself. These problems are not shown. (6) In the scene in which Victor throws a tantrum about learning the alphabet, his and Dr. Itard's responses were different than are shown in the film. Real-life Victor bit his bedsheets and began to throw hot coals around the house before falling to the ground and writhing/screaming/kicking; and Itard (Truffaut) did not merely put him into the closet for a few moments. Itard admits [in translation] that he actually "violently threw open the window of his room, which was on the fifth floor overlooking some boulders directly below ... and grabbing him forcibly by the hips, I held him out of the window, his head facing directly down toward the bottom of the chasm. After some seconds, I drew him in again. He was pale, covered with a cold sweat ... I made him gather up all the [alphabet] cards and replace them all. This was done very slowly ... but at least without impatience." Viewers may thank Truffaut for choosing the lesser of two evil punishments! (7) Finally, Dr. Itard took care of Victor for 5 years; in 1806, Victor moved into Madame Guerin's house and stayed there for the rest of his life, with the French Government paying for his care. It is believed that he died there, without ever marrying. See more »
Automobile traffic can be heard on the soundtrack during some of the scenes which take place in the Revolutionary France-era Institute for the Deaf. See more »
Three hunters discover and a naked child, living in a forest. Capturing him, he is taken to an institute for deaf and mute children. From there he is used as little more than an exhibit.
Having read of his story, Jean Itard, a Parisian doctor, played by Truffaut himself, makes it his goal to integrate this `wild child' into society. What follows is an astonishing tale of a boy, completely deprived of all human contact, as he adapt to life in an unfamiliar, structured society. Named simply `Victor' by Dr Itard, we watch as kindly doctor attempts to educate and communicate with this unusual child. We see Victor's first smiles; we hear his first intelligible sounds, and witness, for the first time, his tears.
This is a deeply powerful film, directed brilliantly by Truffaut, and far surpassing his earlier, and much more critically acclaimed `400 Blows'. Jean-Pierre Cargol plays Victor with a remarkable passion, and is absolutely convincing as this child of the forest. His mannerisms, his posture, his very presence would have one believing he genuinely was a `wild child'.
Truffaut follows this story with startling accuracy based on the real life journals of Dr Itard, his adaptation is faithful to the last. His portrayal of the Doctor is filled with compassion, and a tenderness rarely seen in films.
This is genuine pleasure to watch, and is a testament to enduring spirit of mankind. The main criticism I have is the abrupt ending. We are left with so many unanswered questions. In truth, the real `Victor' died approximately 28 years after his first encounter with Itard. I know little of what happened during the time span between the end of the film and his death, but I intend to find out. This film is only a glance at a boy being introduced to a strange, frightening and unfamiliar world.
It is not without its moments of humour. The scene where Victor practically throws the doctor tending to Itard from the house is both funny and charming, while remaining delicately underplayed.
Everything about this film works so well, from the minimalist photography to the classical score. The casting could not have been better. Truffaut presents himself as not only an accomplished director, but also as an inspired actor. Jean-Pierre Cargol is utterly believable, and thoroughly likeable as Victor, and mention must go to Françoise Seigner, as Madame Geurin, Itard's housekeeper, and the child's carer.
This is a very special film, which deserves a great deal of respect. The visual transfer to DVD is accurate and crisp, and the mono soundtrack subtle, clear and effective. This is one DVD which would have greatly benefited from some extras. Perhaps some insight into Victors' life from adolescence to his death, and some information on what became of Itard. Lack of extras notwithstanding, this should still be very high on anyone's shopping list, and is highly recommended. I believe this was Truffauts' crowning achievement, and is a truly beautiful and inspiring film.
Reviewed by Ollie
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