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The Wild Child
cast: Jean-Pierre Cargol, François Truffaut, Françoise Seigner, and Jean Dasté

director: François Truffaut

81 minutes (U) 1969 widescreen ratio 1.66:1
MGM DVD Region 2 + 4 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens

A true story: in 1798 in Aveyron, France, a young boy (Jean-Pierre Cargol) is found naked, filthy, unable to speak and living a scavenger's existence in the woods. On the assumption that the boy is deaf-mute, he is sent to an institution in Paris. His case comes to the attention of Dr Jean Itard (François Truffaut) who takes upon himself the task of 'taming' the boy and teaching him to read.
   Truffaut always had an affinity with children and childhood, which informs many of his best films. The Wild Child (aka: L'enfant sauvage) is one of those. Based on the true story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron, Truffaut's film is clear-eyed about its subject. Learning and civilisation is an uphill struggle for the boy (named Victor) and there is no 'cure'. There is still a long way to go when the film ends. The Wild Child is a story told simply and with great economy. Before and afterwards, Truffaut made uncredited cameos in his own films, but this was the first of three leading roles he gave himself. The others are in La nuit américane (aka: Day for Night), and La chambre verte (aka: The Green Room) - not to mention his role for Spielberg in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. He gives a self-effacing performance, giving centre stage to the extraordinary Jean-Pierre Cargol as Victor. Ten years old when he made this film (he only made one more), it's more remarkable as a performance done entirely through body language. He only says one coherent word - 'lait' ('milk'), which he says twice - in the entire film.
   Truffaut and his DP, Nestor Almendros, deliberately harked back to the style of early cinema in this film, by shooting in black and white and using some of the techniques of the silent film, especially irises to open or close scenes. Monochrome had become virtually extinct in western cinema by this time. Almendros had come to Truffaut's attention by his fine black and white work on Eric Rohmer's My Night At Maud's. This was the first film they made together, and it was a partnership that was to last through most of Truffaut's films up until his final one, Vivement dimanche! (1982), which incidentally was Truffaut's only subsequent film in black and white. The film makes sparing use of music by Vivaldi.
   This DVD is one of five Truffaut films from the 1960s and 1970s to be released by MGM. The picture is in the correct 1.66:1 ratio but is anamorphic. Owners of widescreen sets can zoom the picture, but they risk cutting off the subtitles if they do. The DVD transfer does a good job with Almendros' photography, though there is some aliasing on window frames and other similar objects, which could have been avoided if the transfer were widescreen-enhanced. The sound is Dolby digital 2.0 mono, with a choice of the original French or dubbed versions in German, Italian or Spanish. Menu screens are available in all these languages plus English, and there are subtitles in English (hard of hearing), German (hard of hearing), French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese and Greek. The only extra is the trailer, an American effort that calls the film The Wild Child and contains no dialogue - presumably to avoid putting people off with subtitles, a tactic that is still used nowadays - only an English-language narration.

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