Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

An unusual foreign film gets several showings here

Cleveland Press June 3, 1971

The small, limited-appeal foreign film has fallen upon evil times not only in Cleveland but also in most cities outside of New York. The market has grown so small that moviemakers no longer bother to go to the expense of extra prints and distribution, knowing full well that if a movie does not do well in New York it will do nothing elsewhere.

All this is by way of preface to calling attention to the showing of Francois Truffaut's "The Wild Child" which opened the New York Film Festival last fall but, so far as I know, has not been seen elsewhere.

The picture will be shown tomorrow and Saturday at 7 and 9:15 p.m. at Strosaker Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University, as a benefit for the United Independent School of East Cleveland.

"The Wild Child" is a small gem, a brief (90-minute) film based on the true story of a young savage found running animal like in the forests in France in 1798.

Hunted down with dogs, the child is captured, then taken to Paris where he is lodged in the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb.

There he is treated cruelly and exploited, exhibited for money to curiosity seekers. Dr. Jean Itard, upon whose memoirs the movie is based, takes the child to his country home where his housekeeper can look after him while he tries to teach him.

In the forests and in his early captivity the boy lopes about hunched over, his hands just touching the ground. He bears scars from his battles with animals, but another scar on his throat indicates that when he was abandoned -- probably at the age of three or four -- it was after someone cut his throat and left him for dead.

Now at 11 or 12 the child makes no sounds, pays no attention to loud noises but turns quickly at slight sounds and is insensitive to extremes of heat and cold.

The learning process is slow and painful, indications of its success are slight. There is the first uttering of sound, the first tear, the first sensation, learning to dress himself, recognition of unjust treatment. And ever present is the nearby forest the chance of escape, his longing for the old freedom.

A purposely dated look to the picture -- black and white film, iris fadeouts, sometimes faded scenes -- actually enhance it.

The performances couldn't be better Jean Pierre Cargol is perfect as the wild boy -- his head flitting from side to side the wistful looks as he gazes toward the forest after civilization has started to take hold. Director-writer Francois Truffaut enacts the role of Itard -- patient, frustrated, finally triumphant.

"The Wild Child" is a very moving, always intriguing film.