The Wild Child


1h 30m 1970
The Wild Child

Brief Synopsis

A crusading doctor tries to civilize a child raised in the wilderness by wolves.

Film Details

Also Known As
L'enfant sauvage
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Sep 1970
Production Company
Films du Carrosse; Les Productions Artistes Associés
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Mémoire et rapport sur Victor de l'Aveyron by Jean Itard (Paris; published in two parts: 1801, 1807).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Synopsis

In late 18th-century France in the district of Aveyron, villagers capture a young boy who has been seen living wild in nearby woods. A farmer houses the boy in his barn until Dr. Jean Itard, who has read of the case in the local papers, takes the boy to the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris. There, the boy becomes a freak attraction for wealthy Parisians and a source of taunting for the other boys housed at the Institute. Itard and a colleague, Professor Pinel, examine the boy and estimate his age to be about 12; in addition, they find his body covered with small scars and one long scar across his throat, which they surmise was a result of his parents slitting his throat before abandoning him. Pinel believes the boy is a deafmute idiot, but Itard dissuades him from sending the boy to an asylum and instead takes the boy to his own country home. Placing the child under the care of his housekeeper, Madame Guérin, Itard names him Victor and proceeds with his plan to educate and civilize the boy. Carefully documenting Victor's progress, Itard tries to teach him to speak but meets with limited success. Victor develops an emotional attachment to both Madame Guérin and Itard and learns to associate some words with objects, but his powers of speech seem genuinely blocked. To test the boy's moral sense, Itard deliberately inflicts an unjust punishment on Victor, and when the boy responds with a fit of tears, Itard concludes that the experiment is a success. Shortly thereafter, Victor runs away to the woods, but after a night spent outdoors, he returns to Itard, who receives him with optimism for the boy's future.

Film Details

Also Known As
L'enfant sauvage
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Sep 1970
Production Company
Films du Carrosse; Les Productions Artistes Associés
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Mémoire et rapport sur Victor de l'Aveyron by Jean Itard (Paris; published in two parts: 1801, 1807).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Articles

The Wild Child


In 1798, a feral boy is discovered outside the town of Aveyron, France. His origins are unknown, but a scar on his neck suggests that he was possibly stabbed by his parents when abandoned as a young child. Diagnosed as mentally impaired, he is relegated to an asylum. A young doctor named Jean Itard, who specializes in ear-nose-throat physiology and the education of deaf-mutes, becomes convinced that the boy has normal mental capacity, but that his development was hindered by lack of contact with society. He brings the boy home, names him Victor, and begins an arduous attempt at education over several years.

Francois Truffaut's The Wild Child (1970) reflects the director's lifelong fascination with childhood and his deep commitment to reforms in child-rearing. While his celebrated feature debut The Four Hundred Blows (1959) depicted a semi-fictionalized version of his own adolescence, for this film Truffaut turned to a widely-studied historical case that he encountered in a 1964 review of a book on feral children by Lucas Malson. That book has been translated into English under the title Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature and includes translations of Jean Itard's two reports (from 1799 and 1806) on the wild boy of Aveyron.

Jean Itard (1774-1838) carried out his work against a background of recent philosophical and scientific debates about the relationship between human nature, the natural order and society, including the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume, and the taxonomy of Carl Linnaeus. In that respect, one of his goals in educating Victor was to promote his theory that "man is only what he is made to be by his circumstances." Although his progress with Victor was ultimately limited--Victor learned to execute a few basic tasks but never learned fully how to speak--Itard's observations contributed greatly to the education of deaf-mutes in general and even influenced the educational theories of Maria Montessori.

According to biographers Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana, after Truffaut had decided to film the project and assigned the script to Jean Gruault, he viewed films such as Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker (1962), conducted further research on the education of deaf-mutes and even observed an actual autistic child. Some 2,500 boys were considered for the role of Victor. Truffaut finally decided on Jean-Pierre Cargol, who was of Romani (Gypsy) origin and was related to a noted guitarist. It is worth noting that Truffaut listed Cargol first in the credits as the ultimate gesture of respect.

For the role of the doctor Truffaut decided to cast himself, as he explained in a 1970 interview: "The Wild Child is a two-character film. It seemed to me that the essential job in this film was not to manage the action but to concern oneself with the child. I therefore wanted to play the role of Dr. Itard myself in order to deal with him myself and thus avoid going through an intermediary." Admittedly, Truffaut's performance is not the film's strongest suit compared to Cargol or its luminous black-and-white cinematography (by Nestor Almendros) and scrupulous period detail. However, in retrospect he was probably correct in his intuition that he needed to play the doctor in order to elicit the best performance from Cargol.

After the film's release, Alfred Hitchcock sent the following telegram to Truffaut: "I SAW THE WILD CHILD WHICH I FIND MAGNIFICENT PLEASE SEND ME AN AUTOGRAPH BY THE ACTOR WHO PLAYS THE DOCTOR HE IS TERRIFIC [...]" Hitchcock knew very well, of course, "the actor who plays the doctor."

Director: Francois Truffaut
Script: Francois Truffaut and Jean Gruault, based on the Memoire and Report on Victor of l'Aveyron by Jean Itard
Director of Photography: Nestor Almendros
Set Design: Jean Mandaroux
Costumes: Gitt Magrini
Editing: Agnes Guillemot
Music: Antonio Vivaldi; musical direction by Antoine Duhamel
Principal Cast: Jean-Pierre Cargol (Victor), Francoise Seigner (Madame Guerin), Francois Truffaut (Itard), Paul Ville (le vieux Remy), Pierre Fabre (l'infirmier), Jean Daste (Professeur Pinel).
BW-85m. Letterboxed.

by James Steffen
The Wild Child

The Wild Child

In 1798, a feral boy is discovered outside the town of Aveyron, France. His origins are unknown, but a scar on his neck suggests that he was possibly stabbed by his parents when abandoned as a young child. Diagnosed as mentally impaired, he is relegated to an asylum. A young doctor named Jean Itard, who specializes in ear-nose-throat physiology and the education of deaf-mutes, becomes convinced that the boy has normal mental capacity, but that his development was hindered by lack of contact with society. He brings the boy home, names him Victor, and begins an arduous attempt at education over several years. Francois Truffaut's The Wild Child (1970) reflects the director's lifelong fascination with childhood and his deep commitment to reforms in child-rearing. While his celebrated feature debut The Four Hundred Blows (1959) depicted a semi-fictionalized version of his own adolescence, for this film Truffaut turned to a widely-studied historical case that he encountered in a 1964 review of a book on feral children by Lucas Malson. That book has been translated into English under the title Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature and includes translations of Jean Itard's two reports (from 1799 and 1806) on the wild boy of Aveyron. Jean Itard (1774-1838) carried out his work against a background of recent philosophical and scientific debates about the relationship between human nature, the natural order and society, including the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume, and the taxonomy of Carl Linnaeus. In that respect, one of his goals in educating Victor was to promote his theory that "man is only what he is made to be by his circumstances." Although his progress with Victor was ultimately limited--Victor learned to execute a few basic tasks but never learned fully how to speak--Itard's observations contributed greatly to the education of deaf-mutes in general and even influenced the educational theories of Maria Montessori. According to biographers Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana, after Truffaut had decided to film the project and assigned the script to Jean Gruault, he viewed films such as Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker (1962), conducted further research on the education of deaf-mutes and even observed an actual autistic child. Some 2,500 boys were considered for the role of Victor. Truffaut finally decided on Jean-Pierre Cargol, who was of Romani (Gypsy) origin and was related to a noted guitarist. It is worth noting that Truffaut listed Cargol first in the credits as the ultimate gesture of respect. For the role of the doctor Truffaut decided to cast himself, as he explained in a 1970 interview: "The Wild Child is a two-character film. It seemed to me that the essential job in this film was not to manage the action but to concern oneself with the child. I therefore wanted to play the role of Dr. Itard myself in order to deal with him myself and thus avoid going through an intermediary." Admittedly, Truffaut's performance is not the film's strongest suit compared to Cargol or its luminous black-and-white cinematography (by Nestor Almendros) and scrupulous period detail. However, in retrospect he was probably correct in his intuition that he needed to play the doctor in order to elicit the best performance from Cargol. After the film's release, Alfred Hitchcock sent the following telegram to Truffaut: "I SAW THE WILD CHILD WHICH I FIND MAGNIFICENT PLEASE SEND ME AN AUTOGRAPH BY THE ACTOR WHO PLAYS THE DOCTOR HE IS TERRIFIC [...]" Hitchcock knew very well, of course, "the actor who plays the doctor." Director: Francois Truffaut Script: Francois Truffaut and Jean Gruault, based on the Memoire and Report on Victor of l'Aveyron by Jean Itard Director of Photography: Nestor Almendros Set Design: Jean Mandaroux Costumes: Gitt Magrini Editing: Agnes Guillemot Music: Antonio Vivaldi; musical direction by Antoine Duhamel Principal Cast: Jean-Pierre Cargol (Victor), Francoise Seigner (Madame Guerin), Francois Truffaut (Itard), Paul Ville (le vieux Remy), Pierre Fabre (l'infirmier), Jean Daste (Professeur Pinel). BW-85m. Letterboxed. by James Steffen

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Auvergne. Opened in Paris in February 1970 as L'enfant sauvage; running time: 85 min.

Miscellaneous Notes

Re-released in United States January 9, 2009

Released in United States on Video September 25, 1991

Released in United States February 1970

Released in United States September 10, 1970

Released in United States August 17, 1985

Released in United States 1999

Shown at Berlin Film Festival February 1970.

Shown at New York Film Festival September 10, 1970.

Shown at "Truffaut Plus", a Film Society of Lincoln Center Retrospective August 17, 1985.

Restored print re-released in New York City (Film Forum) November 7, 2008.

Re-released in United States November 7, 2008 (New York City)

Re-released in United States January 9, 2009 (Los Angeles)

Released in United States on Video September 25, 1991

Released in United States February 1970 (Shown at Berlin Film Festival February 1970.)

Released in United States September 10, 1970 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 10, 1970.)

Released in United States August 17, 1985 (Shown at "Truffaut Plus", a Film Society of Lincoln Center Retrospective August 17, 1985.)

Released in United States 1999 (Shown in New York City (FIlm Forum) as part of program "Tout Truffaut" April 23 - June 24, 1999.)

Re-released in United States November 7, 2008