Friday, 21 June 2013

Friday Night Film: L'enfant Sauvage

I sometimes think cinema was invented for Francois Truffaut. As a kid, it saved him from an unhappy and turbulent childhood. As an adult, it gave him a job, firstly as a critic and, secondly, as a truly great director. Truffaut was a difficult and argumentative man in person and he seems to have saved all his tenderness and sensitivity for his films, which are always beautifully intuitive and filled with love.

Wild boy.


Who doesn't like to be wheeled around?

‘L’enfant Sauvage’ (1970) is relatively slight, but it’s a lovely, gentle, funny film. Based on a true story, it is set in 1798 and tells of a feral eleven year old boy who is captured in the forest after living wild since he was little more than a baby. Considered deaf, mute and an ‘idiot’, he is sent to a special school until Dr. Itard (Truffaut himself) spots him and realises the boy’s problems are not physical but an obvious result of his unusual early life. Itard names the boy Victor and gives him a bath, a haircut and a home. The rest of the film concerns Itard’s attempts to civilise the boy, and to understand him.  Victor resists every step of the way, stripping off his clothes at every opportunity, throwing food around and obstinately refusing to learn to read, write or speak.

If you want it, say it.

Victor does lines.


Naughty boy.

One day, fed up of lessons and Dr. Itard's tough love, Victor runs away but, quickly realising that he is no longer able to live as he did, he returns after a few days, much to Dr. Itard’s relief and delight (and the viewer’s – it’s a wonderful moment).  

Oh no...

He's back!


Shot in black and white and using silent film conventions, ‘L’enfant Sauvage’  is a film which pulls you in then defies expectations by not going where you want it to. There is no happy ending or emotion stirring finale – Victor doesn’t suddenly start talking or stop slurping his soup, and Itard doesn’t wipe away a tear as they embrace. It’s clear that Victor’s mind will always be largely impenetrable, but a bargain has been struck: Itard will continue to try to teach , and Victor will let him.       
The scenes that always come back to me when I think about the film are the ones where Victor is left to his own devices and reverts, temporarily, back to his strange, mysterious feral origins. The sight of him crooning to himself under a full moon, or rocking backwards and forwards and making animal noises in a rainstorm is unforgettable.    

I also like the bit where he eats his soup. Oh, Victor! 

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