Truffaut's elegant 1970 'Wild Child'

Posted: February 20, 2009

French new waver Francois Truffaut was raised in an orphanage, and the filmmaker's affinity for, and fascination with, outcast children manifests itself in sublime form in The 400 Blows, Small Change, and The Wild Child.

The latter, released in 1970 (but with the look and feel of something far older and more formal in approach), returns to the big screen.

Based on accounts of a boy found roaming naked and feral in the forests of southern France in the late 18th century, The Wild Child stars Truffaut himself as Jean Itard, the doctor who takes the boy, first presumed deaf and mute, into his home and patiently, determinedly, socializes and schools him.

Jean-Pierre Cargol is the kid, and his autistic-like mannerisms and scrawny ferocity are utterly convincing. As is his wide-eyed, eager-to-please mien, as Dr. Itard and his housemaid (Francoise Seigner) teach the boy, dubbed Victor, to identify objects, to write and spell, dress himself, and set a table.

Shot in simple, elegant black and white, unfolding at a measured pace, The Wild Child is fascinating not only for its Tarzan-like true-life story, but also for what it says about the process of nurturing and educating children, and the tools we use - language, discipline, affection - to do so.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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