Paris, 1797 and Dr Jean Itard rescues a child of nature from public humiliation and, having named him Victor while studying him at an institution for deaf-mutes, he takes the boy to his country home to see if he will respond to civilising influences.
François Truffaut first encountered Dr Jean Itard's Mémoire et Rapport sur Victor de l'Aveyron (1801-06) in 1966. The text clearly reflected with his own rather old-fashioned views on education, which prompted many to denounce The Wild Child for its dubious conservatism. But it also struck personal chords, as not only had Truffaut been rescued from himself as a youth by the critic André Bazin, but he had also become something of a father figure to Jean-Pierre Léaud during the production of Les Quatre Cents Coups.
In many ways, therefore, this was an inversion of Truffaut's first feature, as whereas Antoine Doinel had sought an escape from a society that didn't understand him, Victor slowly assimilated a system of values that had been irrelevant to his initial state of innocence. However, we never find out whether Victor was better off with his primitive unenlightenment or with this new mindset, in which he had to cope with feelings like nostalgia and rebellion that had been totally alien to him in the forest. This ambiguity similarly made it difficult to separate Truffaut the man from both the character he played on screen and his young charge. Truffaut had benefited from an education and had learned how to communicate both in print and on celluloid. Yet all Itard had managed to teach Victor by the end of the picture was a sense of injustice that merely demonstrated him to be more instinctively human than merely animalistically malleable. This conclusion intriguingly mirrors Truffaut's relationship with Jean-Pierre Cargol, a gypsy boy whom he had discovered on the same Montpellier streets that had provided the kids for his 1957 short, Les Mistons. Truffaut had originally intended to cast another non-professional as Itard, but he realised that it would be easier to direct Cargol if they were on the same side of the camera. Thus, the production became something of an experiment itself and its tone of scientific investigation was reinforced by the solemnly restrained shooting style, which was given an antiquated feel by Nestor Almendros's use of monochrome stock and framing devices associated with silent cinema.
A typical older male mentore story...told with sensitivity and perceptiveness.