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Non-Review Review: The Fox and The Child

Myself and the girlfriend caught The Fox and The Girl (or Le Renard et L’Enfant) on Sky last night. It was a film with more than a few beautiful moments, but left us with the distinct impression that director Luc Jacquet works a lot better with animals than he does with humans.

Half-good, half-bad...

Half-good, half-bad...

One part nature documentary, one part fairytale or fable, the movie works its best when the human character is off-screen and out of mind. There are some truly beautiful shots of the fox (one early sequence involving an escape from a Lynx or a later scene involving moving home). Jacquet clearly has an eye for this sort of thing and much of footage (accompanied by a rarely intrusive soundtrack) is visually stunning as he brings the forest to life. There is some amazing cinematography which calls to mind the BBC documentary series Planet Earth – and that’s a fairly large compliment. Like that documentary, it looks stunning in HD.

So the nature documentary works. Unfortunately Jacquet isn’t half as good with humans. Due to a fairly weak script and an irritating narration from Kate Winslet (there’s a reason Morgan Freeman usually does these things – it ain’t easy), the eponymous child comes across… well, fairly badly. Some of her antics can be forgiven due to the folly of youth – who hasn’t done a stupid thing as a child? – but there are quite a few actions that cross the line from “sweet and niave” into “vindictive and sociopathic”. It’s not entirely unfair to suggest we spend the bulk of the movie sympathising with the fox (who doesn’t bore use with pointless philosophical monologues), and actually can’t understand why the thing doesn’t just bite her. It would be in her own best interest.

The film is too self-consciously obsessed with being a fairytale. Visually it works (there’s a great segment where the forest comes alive after dark as the camera pans around a tree trunk), but the dialogue is just terrible for most of the runtime. It’s very consciously trying to be “evocative” and “thought-provoking”. The moral is fairly ham-fisted one and one that probably could have been much easier thought. and though the climax of the relationship between the two characters did affect me (and the consequences of it would completely alienate the audience from the bipedal character), the end of the film betrays that shocking moment. It could have been a lot more powerful had it been willing to allow us to hate a character that most of the audience will probably end up hating anyway.

So, it’s a tough one to recommend unless you are familiar with the area or have a love of nature cinematography. Even if you do, there are far better examples out there that aren’t weighed down by the human elements that interfere with some fairly poignant footage. They say never work with children or animals, but perhaps the director could have settled for one or the other.

Le Renard at L’Enfant is directed by Luc Jacquet (March of the Penguins) and narrated by Kate Winslet (The Reader, Revolutionary Road). It was released in the UK and Ireland on the 8th August 2008. There is no US release date listed.

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