Directed By: François Truffaut
Starring: François Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Cargol, Françoise Seigner
Tag line: "At last an adult film to which you can take your children"
Trivia: This film is based o an actual incident that occurred in France at the beginning of the 19th century
Francois Truffaut’s 1970 film The Wild Child is based on the true tale of Victor of Aveyron, a young man who spent the majority of his adolescence living in the wild. A so-called “feral child”, he was placed in the custody of Dr. Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard, a physician who dedicated 5 years of his life to trying to teach Victor how to communicate with others. Shot in black and white, The Wild Child takes a very basic approach to Victor’s story, yet manages to convey the frustration that both he and Itard felt over the course of the boy’s training.
After being captured by hunters, a boy (Jean-Pierre Cargol) who, for most of his life, lived on his own in the wild, is brought to the Paris Institute for the Dead and Dumb, where Dr. Itard (played by director Truffaut) takes a special interest in his case. Relocating the boy, who he would nickname “Victor”, to his home in the country, Dr. Itard, with the help of his housekeeper Madame Guérin (Françoise Seigner), sets to work teaching the young man the finer points of the French language, a task that proves to be much more aggravating than it is rewarding.
Aside from the first half-hour or so of the film, which deals with the boy’s capture and eventual transfer to the institute, The Wild Child focuses primarily on the training sessions set up by Dr. Itard, which, despite the occasional success (Victor learns to identify the letters of the alphabet), are a definite challenge (whenever the boy gets frustrated, he lashes out, tossing objects across the room or writhing around on the ground as if he was having an epileptic seizure). The performances are quite good (especially Jean-Pierre Cargol as Victor), but it’s the straightforward manner in which Truffaut relates this story (like using the “iris in”, a time-honored cinematic technique dating back to the silent era, to focus our attention on a specific area of the frame) that makes The Wild Child such an engaging motion picture.
With The Wild Child, Francois Truffaut once again explores a theme close to his heart: that of a youngster who doesn’t fit in with “normal” society. His first movie, The 400 Blows, a semi-autobiographical work in many respects, was about a confused adolescent dealing with the injustices heaped upon him by parents and teachers alike. Naturally, the situation in The Wild Child is much more severe; this time around, the young man at the center of it all has no experience whatsoever with the outside world, entering society with all the innocence of a newborn. Yet the premise remains just as strong; like Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows, Victor is striving to find his way in the world, and it’s fitting that both movies conclude with a close-up of their central character’s face, each looking as puzzled as ever. Their stories may have come to an end, but for Antoine and Victor, the search for inner peace carries on well after the credits roll.