The fox and the child (Le renard et l'enfant) recounts the story of a magical, life-changing encounter between a wild fox and a young girl, portraying the story of their impossible friendship played out against a breath-taking mountainside wilderness. Springing from his own formative childhood encounters with a fox and drawing on years of wildlife documentary experience seen almost exclusively from the animal's perspective, director Luc Jacquet's film will offer audiences an unprecedented journey into the magical, secret world of this most elusive and enigmatic creature.
A nature documentary blended with gentle drama, The Fox and the Child has a simple premise: Cute, 10-year-old girl spends a year stalking a fox which she dubs Lily, befriends the creature and her cubs, then realises she has to let Lily go back to the wild.
Doesn’t sound overly dramatic or exciting, and it isn’t, despite the earnest efforts of Luc Jacquet, who had a worldwide hit with his previous pic, March of the Penguins. This film has its charms and modest pleasures but suffers from obvious limitations: There is plenty of wildlife but the un-named girl is the sole human character in this stylised world, and she is seen speaking only to Lily. Its best assets are the spectacular countryside, filmed in the Ain region of France and Abruzzo National Park in Italy, and Gerard Simon’s lush photography as he tracks the child and fox across snow, fields, forests, mountains, creeks and caves.
The busy narration by Kate Winslet is delivered well enough but is often quite banal: perhaps it sounded more poetic in the original version by French actress Isabelle Carré. When the girl, played by freckle-faced, expressive Bertille Noël-Bruneau, converses occasionally with Lily, it’s dubbed rather ineptly into English.
The story was inspired by the childhood memories of Jaquet, who grew up in the mountains of Ain and, like his alter-ego, was captivated when he first came across a fox. It isn’t, contrary to how the girl describes it, a 'great adventure," but more of a series of small-scale events and incidents.
An only child, the girl lives in an isolated cottage in a valley and seems to spend most of her time in her bedroom or outdoors. She’s confined to bed for awhile with a leg cast after falling over in the snow. The fox is shot at by a hunter but escapes. The girl saves Lily from being attacked by wolves. She gets disoriented, lost and frightened after following Lily into spooky caves, which naturally upsets her unseen parents and results in her being grounded for a week. As a fable, it does deftly show how a child and a fox can connect despite the vast space between species—up to a certain point.
The close-up photography of the fox (actually six were used for the main character) and her cubs is remarkable, something that would make David Attenborough either insanely jealous or very proud. A city kid who was afraid of animals, Bertille was trained by expert animal handler Marie-Noelle Baroni, and she looks perfectly at ease with the creatures. Foxes are notorious for only doing what they want to do, Jacquet says, so the crew must have been extremely patient as filming took six months.
It’s the kind of pretty to watch, mildly entertaining movie to which Kate Winslet might take her children, who are aged 8 and 5. I suspect most kids aged 10 and upwards may find it a bore.