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François Truffaut's fascinating 1969 film, based on a real-life, 18th-century behavioral scientist's efforts to turn a feral boy into a civilized specimen, is an ingenious and poignant experience. In a piece of resonant casting that immediately turns this story into an echo of the creative process, Truffaut himself plays Dr. Itard, a specialist in the teaching of the deaf. Itard takes in a young lad (Jean-Pierre Cargol) found to have been living like an animal in the woods all his life. In the spirit of social experiment, Itard uses rewards and punishments to retool the boy's very existence into something that will impress the world. Beautifully photographed in black and white and making evocative use of such charmingly antiquated filmmaking methods as the iris shot, The Wild Child has a semidocumentary form that barely veils Truffaut's confessional slant. What does it mean to turn the raw material of life into a monument to one's own experience and bias? The question has all sorts of intriguing reverberations when one considers that Truffaut's own wild childhood was rescued by love of the cinema and that a degree of verisimilitude factors into his films starring Jean-Pierre Leaud--the troubled lad who grew up in Truffaut's work from The 400 Blows onward. (The Wild Child is dedicated to Leaud.) --Tom Keogh
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