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.
User Reviews: 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