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  Wild Child, The Nature Or Nurture?Buy this film here.
Year: 1970
Director: François Truffaut
Stars: Jean-Pierre Cargol, François Truffaut, Françoise Seigner, Jean Dasté, Annie Miller, Claude Miller, Paul Villé
Genre: Drama, Historical
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: One day in 1798, a Frenchwoman in a forest of Aveyron was alarmed by some kind of beast in the trees and fled to fetch help; a hunting party was swiftly organised and they tracked the creature with their dogs, only to find that it was no animal but a little boy (Jean-Pierre Cargol) who had apparently been living there since he had been an infant. Once captured, the question arose of what to do with him so as he appeared to be deaf and was undoubtedly a mute, he was sent to a school for the deaf in Paris. There Dr Itard (François Truffaut) took him under his wing, determined to prove that the boy was not mentally backward, but could learn and join civilisation...

One of a small genre of true life tales where neglected innocents are taught the ways of society against the odds, The Wild Child, or L'enfant sauvage if you were French, saw its director and co-writer adapting the actual reports of Dr Jean Itard who had decided to climb that mountain of teaching a "savage" to fit in, although whether he entirely succeeded or not is less a question here than whether he should have attempted it in the first place. Feral children, and sometimes adults, have appeared throughout history, if not often then often enough to shed light on how the rest of the world learns to acclimatise itself in comparison, so there was much grounds here for debate.

What Truffaut did was go further and ask if the mere tutoring of a child is in fact to place a burden on him, to shackle him to something he could exist without, and if in the long run we should simply return to the trees for a happier, more simple lifestyle. For the majority of Earth's population that's not going to happen anytime soon, and you could argue that Truffaut's romanticism of the child in his story, eventually named Victor, was taken to absurd lengths as most would believe that society had a right to look after the waif, particularly in light of the upbringing he had endured. Indeed, the French government did fund his care for the rest of his life, and it's hard to contest that this was not the right thing to do.

Yet you can see where Truffaut was coming from, as his own background involved growing up in an orphanage and being bright but poor at learning; not only that this film's dedication to Jean-Pierre Leaud at the beginning suggests that he felt a guilt towards the way he had taught the actor for his first movie role that Truffaut had offered him. As it is, he took a cool look at the relationship between Itard and Victor, though never an icy one, and the science that fuelled the doctor's obsession with opening up the child's world to the things that almost all French children his age would have taken for granted: speech, literacy, a moral sense, and love. It was Itard and his housekeeper Madame Guerin (Françoise Seigner) who gave Victor this last, as they assumed the parental roles.

Still, there's the sense throughout that the boy would be more content to leave all these pressures behind him and return to the forest, which indeed he does make an attempt at. After the period of his celebrity dies down, where various members of the public visit him as if he were an exhibit in the zoo, Itard starts his lessons on him, working out that he is not deaf after all and that whoever left him in the forest all those years ago had tried to kill him first and presumably left the boy for dead. It remains a mystery to this day the exact identity of Victor, as is more than sometimes the case with these feral children, and Truffaut thankfully did not try to make any explanation up, sticking to the facts of Itard's notes as far as they went to propping up his own themes and messages. What you're left with is not so much an enigma about surviving in the wild, but one of how far should we go to civilise ourselves and if love is more important that the three Rs.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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