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With: Jean-Pierre Cargol, François Truffaut, Françoise Seigner, Jean Dasté, Annie Miller, Claude Miller, Paul Villé, Nathan Miller, Mathieu Schiffman
Written by: François Truffaut, Jean Gruault, based on a book by Jean Itard
Directed by: François Truffaut
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 83
Date: 02/26/1970

The Wild Child (1970)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Taking Direction

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Right in the middle of a career filled with lush, color, star-studded films, Truffaut made this spare, stark stripped-down character study with no stars. Based on a true story, it takes place in 1798, when the wild child of the title -- a boy of about age ten (Jean-Pierre Cargol) -- is discovered living like an animal in the woods. He can't walk upright or speak, and he appears to be deaf. He quickly becomes a celebrity freak, and some lazy doctors decide that he's beyond help, but Dr. Itard (Francois Truffaut) believes that he can civilize the boy, whom he calls "Victor." It's likely that Truffaut, who loved films and loved being a film director, was looking at the relationship between actor and director. So, in casting himself as Itard, he saw the character as a kind of director, working with an actor, shaping his performance and pushing it in demanding and even cruel directions for the sake of great art. The film follows their daily lessons, the missteps, the little victories, but without a hint of sentiment; Itard never cracks a smile at his breakthroughs or weeps at his setbacks. Itard also narrates from his notes, but with an equal lack of emotion. The black-and-white cinematography (by Nestor Almendros) is very clinical and the sound is raw. In the key scene, Victor bites Itard as part of a successful experiment, and you can almost picture Truffaut's pleasure at having been similarly "bitten" by Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve or Fanny Ardant after having pushed too far. But whether or not you subscribe to this personal angle, The Wild Child is still a fascinating film, with an astonishing performance by young Cargol. The Film Desk has re-released the film in selected theatres in 2008 and 2009.

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