Wild Child, Civilized Teacher

Francois Truffaut as the teacher and Jean-Pierre Cargol the student in Truffaut's wondrous "The Wild Child."

At the moment, at this very nanosecond, the best movie in town is "The Wild Child" (1970), Francois Truffaut's wondrous account of the real-life Dr. Itard who systematically studied, educated, and in his own way loved Victor, a feral boy discovered in the French woods in 1799. Exquisitely photographed in black-and-white by that cinematographic master Nestor Almendros, the film starring Truffaut himself as the methodical Itard and Jean-Pierre Cargol as the playful Victor, uses silent-movie techniques (irising in and out of scenes) that make it resemble an artifact from the distant past.

Like Arthur Penn's comparably moving "The Miracle Worker" (1962), "The Wild Child" is an adult film that children very much enjoy because of the delicacy by which it characterizes teacher and student. It leaves open the question of whether Victor is natural being uncontaminated by civilization or Dr. Itard (whose techniques formed the foundation of the Montessori method) civilized the isolated caveboy. (The natural-versus-civilized conflict is likewise the basis of other celebrated student/teacher stories such as "Pygmalion" and its musical version, "My Fair Lady."

Though I had hoped that "The Wild Child" would enjoy an open-ended theatrical run, it's playing only through Thursday at the Ritz/Bourse. You could rent it on the DVD, but seeing it on a big screen is the only way to catch all the detail Truffaut gracefully packs within a frame. See it before it leaves. Take your kids. Borrow someone else's.

In the meantime, your favorite screen teachers and students?