WILD CHILD, THE (L’ ENFANT SAUVAGE)
(director/writer: François Truffaut; screenwriters: Jean Gruault/based on the Memoire and Report on Victor of l’Aveyron by Jean Itard; cinematographer: Nestor Almendros; editor: Agnes Guillemot; music: Antonio Vivaldi; cast: Jean-Pierre Cargol (Victor), Francoise Seigner (Madame Guerin), Francois Truffaut (Dr. Itard), Paul Ville (le vieux Remy), Pierre Fabre (l’infirmier), Jean Daste (Professeur Pinel); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Marcel Berbert; United Arists; 1970-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Offers a reassuring liberal outlook that has the hubris to think that one can cure anyone who is ill with proper education and treatment.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s based on the Memoire and Report on Victor of l’Aveyron by Dr. Jean Itard (1774-1838), published in 1806, a late 18th century behavioral scientist who aimed to tame a wild boy found living mysteriously in the woods (probably abandoned by his parents), in the district of Aveyron, through his humane conditioning program. It’s cowritten by Jean Gruault and French New Wave director François Truffaut (“The 400 Blows”/”Small Change”/”Confidentially Yours”). It’s an inspiring tale that’s flatly told and offers a reassuring liberal outlook that has the hubris to think that one can cure anyone who is ill with proper education and treatment. The real-life child, named Victor (Jean-Pierre Cargol, of gypsy parents), remained with Itard five years, but the report about him states that he died, around the age of forty, without ever having become “a so-called normal human being.” In the film the ending is more cautiously optimistic, as Victor runs away to the woods only to return to Itard after a night spent outdoors.
After a farmer, in 1798, finds the feral child in the woods, the emotionless enlightened Dr. Itard (Francois Truffaut) relocates the boy to the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris, where he becomes a freak attraction for the gawking rich and subject to taunting by the other boys living at the Institute. Itard relocates the child to his country home and attempts to get the untrained child to walk straight, wear clothes and speak. The film spends most of its time showing the steps used to get the estimated to be 12-year-old beast child civilized, as a respectful relationship is developed between teacher and pupil.
Truffaut, in this basically two-character film, uses this actual case study to examine many modern issues that pertain to child rearing, education and relationships between adults and children.
REVIEWED ON 11/3/2008 GRADE: B+