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A movie like this can be viewed in two main ways: a human example of a
scientific study (with on screen replications of the study, and a moral
conclusion); or a lesson in learning for the participants (the wild
child will learn how to spell his adopted name; his teacher -- and we
the audience -- will learn how to feel!). Truffaut kind of merges both
into something of unique value. It feels a little removed, and it
becomes clear that that's to prevent sentimentality. It's
unsentimental, but Truffaut is a quiet master; as is the case with
David Lynch's "The Elephant Man," his auteur sensibilities shine
through the story so that it fits in neatly with his catalogue -- here
we have another film with a naked boy's bum, and young children being
goofy and walking in packs. What the film is is an intense
magnification of the troubles of child-rearing, emphasized twofold by
Truffaut's role in the film: he is the "mother" giving birth to the
film; and he is the father raising this "wild child" within the film;
good-natured, but without the inherent understanding of the boy that
his housekeeper has (and without the inherent understanding Truffaut
the director has of cinema).
Is it possible to feel bad watching a Truffaut film? And even better than making you feel good, he's not being sneaky about it -- instead of crass manipulation (and what kind of film could be more easily made manipulative than a one about boy left to survive in a forest and how he learns to be "human"?), he imbues each frame with soft, gentle love; so instead of jerking our emotions around via contrivance of the characters, he trusts us enough -- and his own talent enough -- to allow us to latch on to feeling his respect and love for cinema itself. (And he wisely keeps the film in mostly medium shots.) Nothing is really highlighted, but occasionally a particular image will be so fine that it's hard not to notice it, like the one where the camera is raised above Victor as he slouches back to his room after being told he can't accompany Truffaut to the doctor. (Or the sly visual gag where Truffaut is teaching Victor letters with the boy's fingers, and he manages to basically flip the audience the bird -- then has Truffaut swat his fingers with a cane.)
Truffaut isn't interested in the kind of acting displays that normally accompany this kind of film; the acting is subdued and realistic (but then again, how would we ever know how a wild child would act?). The boy is limited to acting without words, and it's a very good performance: whether he's grinning wildly in a bath or swaying back and forth or opening his mouth as wide as it can go in an act of effrontery, it's a performance that refuses to indicate how we should feel. There are some scenes that portray confusion so well but don't rub our noses in it, like the one where he's trying his hardest to follow instructions and eat his soup properly, but can't help himself and sticks his face in the bowl. After Victor makes a craft and impresses Truffaut with it, Truffaut writes in his ongoing journal how joyful he is but to forgive his enthusiasm over such a small triumph -- that's the best way to describe how the film feels: a series of small triumphs of gentle subtlety. 9/10
L'Enfant sauvage, Dir François Truffaut 1969
Reviewed by Ollie December 19th 2003
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
This austere ,black and white movie might be Truffaut's peak.Recalling
sometimes,in its spirit,Penn's "miracle worker",the work suffuses with
humanism,belief in dignity of man .The child ,for Truffaut,is a frail
human being,who needs (and deserves ) education.Hence,some critics
called "wild child" the positive side of "the 400 blows".Perhaps so,but
,in my humble opinion,the 1969 effort is much stronger than the rather
academic first attempt.Following Doctor Itard's report with absolute
fidelity,and portraying him with gusto,Truffaut is a much better actor
here than he 's in Spielberg's "close encounters".The production is
pared down to the essential,using old-fashioned techniques,recalling
silent movies.I do not think,like M.Maltin,that it "loses steam
half-way through".On the contrary,the most important scene in the whole
movie comes in the last third:Victor,the wild child ,unfairly
punished,rebels.He can see the difference between good and bad.Might it
be possible that moral conscience should be innate? Does society,as
Rousseau believed it pervert man? At the beginning of the
movie,remember how cruel was our civilized populace to the different
child: showed in public,like a queer animal,to make dough. All teachers
in the world should see this masterpiece.
NB:In France,in primary school,a lot of pupils read Victor's story.
Everything about this movie is great. The acting is done perfectly, particularly Victor. This child has the ability to evoke every primal human emotion without doing anything but making sounds and using facial expressions. Perhaps only a child could be capable of doing this but I doubt any child could do it as well. We feel sympathy for him and want to care for him ourselves at the same time that we are anxious about the deep mystery he forces us to recognize. The scene when he is rocking under the full moon, and the look on his face as the movie ends, are brilliant and frightening. The fact that this actor, to my knowledge, has done nothing since, adds to the effect. Where did he go? Might he have been more in touch with this side of humanity than just as an actor? Just incredible. And Truffault's direction was perfect as well. Filmed in a minimalist style and cleverly utilizing early film techniques, he evokes a time period yet allows no distraction from the actual issues involved in the story. The viewer is forced to pay attention and forced to deal with the issues confronting the doctor and his relationship with the boy. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
The film is well made with good performances by Victor the wild child
as well as Truffaut as his doctor and father figure.
Truffaut's main concern is studying what humans really are when you strip away the socialization process. Do we have morals? Language abilities? Compassion? This was also the main question for Dr. Itard who raised the boy after he was found.
However, the legitimacy of the wild child is called into question early in the film. Is Victor a normal human child or was there something abnormal about him that caused his family to abandon him? If he was abnormal to begin with, then we really can't conclude anything about what humanity would be like without the socialization process.
Reading through Dr. Itard's notes, many have concluded that Victor was an autistic child. His parents probably found him uncontrollable and abandoned him in the woods. So while Dr. Itard believed he was seeing the results of a normal boy with no socialization, he was probably seeing the results of a normal autistic child.
Despite this problem, the film is still interesting to watch but it ends up raising more questions than it answers.
The Wild Child could be the kind of movie that doesn't work. In a way
it's hard to find what the dramatic conflict of the film would be if
not for the push & pull struggle between the scientists and his 'test'
subject of sorts, Victor, the wild child of the title. But somehow it
does- Truffaut laces the film with a kind of undertone of logic for the
audience (how can a boy for most of his life be out in the wild and
become suddenly domesticated), while making a sort of nature versus
society statement. The film also has the director's trademark
lightness, which helps to not make the film's subject matter too bleak
or disparaging. For it could be- Truffaut actually gives a kind of
suspense to the narrative at times, that just when you think Victor is
on his way to success, he stumbles and starts to act out on the floor
or escape into the wild for a breather. It's a very curious film, not
just because Truffaut (in one of his few times) gives himself the
starring role, but also that the child- like Makim Munzak in Kurosawa's
Dersu Uzala- had his only significant role ever in the film. And it's
quite the seemingly impulsive, and always alive, performance that
filmmaker's rarely get out of children.
Victor is named this only halfway through the film, and it starts off with him being chased by a small mob and their dogs through the woods. It's maybe the most exciting part of the film, but then this segways into the early stages of the boy's troubles. He's placed in a deaf and dumb school, beat up by the other kids, and still with the passions and intelligence that the woods have given him. It becomes a fascination in the story of what the limits, if any, are for him to learn everything real boys do. Once he's put into Dr. Itard's (Truffaut) care, then the film sets off onto a very direct path- how will he learn, will he, and how long will it it take? As with his other films, the literary aspect kicks in as the scientist takes repeated notes on the boy, using a kind of pre-Darwinian way of scientific methods. But it's within the little moments in the film, like when Victor is out on his walks, or makes his little successes, where Truffaut as a filmmaker picks up the best parts of the film.
This could be a very routine picture, and for some it may actually be a little dull and disheartening. Will the boy ever learn? The film actually does raise questions within its format, as it is based on a true case (from taking science classes I know there are also others of this kind as well). It brings to mind about what is pure and delicate about the ways of an animal and what separates them and humans. Each little test becomes dramatic conflict in the structure Truffaut puts forth, and in a way it's rather experimental. And it even becomes delightful in certain scenes, like when he first learns how to ask for milk, and then this expands. This, along with a sweet Vivaldi score in the background, and interesting visuals (love the iris usage), makes it a worthwhile entry in Truffaut's oeuvre. Not one of his absolute best, but up there.
For those unfamiliar with the history of "the wild boy of Aveyron," this film will be intriguing and informative. It follows the known facts of "Victor's" life closely, but does not reveal, even in an epilogue, that its terminus represents about the furthest that Victor ever progressed. In fact, Dr. Itard, who adopted the boy and attempted to educate and "civilise" him, abandoned the project soon afterward, and Victor died at about age 40 in a public institution. Whether or not it would have been better to allow him his "nasty, brutal and short" -- but free -- life in the wild presents a genuine moral dilemma.. Both Francois Truffaut's direction and the cinematography of Nestor Amendros are stark, and emphasize the paradox of intellectual riches and emotional poverty said to have been the lot of bourgeois children in the eighteenth century.
An absolutely enthralling film, based on the true story of a real-life
boy "Tarzan". Discovered in a French Aveyron forest, in the late 1700s,
"The Wild Child" was considered to be a deaf and dumb savage. But,
young doctor Jean Itard (played by director Francois Truffaut) believes
he can "civilize" the child. With tentative permission from the child's
guardian "Institute for the Deaf and Dumb", Dr. Itard takes the savage
boy into his home. Itard becomes the child's teacher and, ultimately,
surrogate parent. Housekeeper Françoise Seigner adds some expert
motherly affection. Itard symbolically names the boy "Victor" due to
his preference for the ending "O" sound.
Director/writer/co-star Truffaut's "L' Infant sauvage" is a minor masterpiece. It's beautifully photographed (by Nestor Almendros), thought-provoking, and emotionally captivating. The ending events are, in fact, an emotional roller-coaster. Truffaut elicits a tremendous performance from Jean-Pierre Cargol as the savage young Victor. A great film for parents, teachers, and children (which means, of course, everyone).
********* L' Infant sauvage (2/26/70) François Truffaut ~ Jean-Pierre Cargol, François Truffaut, Françoise Seigner, Jean Dasté
If it weren't for several other strong works from Truffaut, this one would be my favorite. And it somes ways it is my favorite. The interaction between Victor and Dr. Itard was splendidly done. It was a joy simply to watch Truffaut on- screen directing the boy's progress, much like he must have done off-screen to get some very human reactions. At no point during this film did I think a scene was overdone or unnatural. It just seemed to flow from one small triumph to the next. My only complaint was that the whole experiment ended abrubtly, and so too did the movie. We are told by Dr. Itard that Victor is a extraordinary boy, but he has much training left to master. There were many points along the way where doubt lingered as to whether the wild child could be fully trained at all until the final scene. There we learn that Victor has a new home.
This movie was based on a true event which took place in the late 1700s. Unfortunately for the audience, the most pressing question of what became of Victor in his adult life is left unanswered. But fans of Francois Truffaut will find him even more engaging than in his role of Claude Lacombe in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". The roles are similar in many ways. If Lacombe could have taken home the child-like aliens to instruct, I'm sure he would have been much like Dr. Itard.
Provocative, engaging, and moving, this movie is an absolute wonder -
elegant, artful, with breathtaking use of Vivaldi's music, with amazing
performance form Jeanne-Pierre Cargol as a Wild Child of the title, the
young boy who was found living in the forest outside a village in
1790th France. Based on the book of the physician Itard (played by
Francois Truffault) who took the boy in and tried to teach him how to
live among humans. The contrast between the narrator's (Itard's)
passionless voice and his growing emotional attachment to the boy is
"The Wild Child" is my favorite Truffault's film - I think it is much stronger than his more popular "400 Blows". Highly recommended
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