Review: ‘Child of the Wild’

Aconsistently engaging, stunningly lensed family adventure that will delight young viewers as well as their folks, "Child of the Wild" chronicles the true yearlong expedition of the director, his wife and their baby girl as they traverse the Canadian Rockies through the Yukon to Dawson, Alaska, with only horses and then a team of sled dogs for company. With its sustained feel for the majesty of the great outdoors, pic will make even the most sedentary viewer want to rush out and commune with nature. Kid distribs and nature channels should immediately "mush" to acquire this unpretentious charmer. B.O. in France has been good for a specialized pic.

Aconsistently engaging, stunningly lensed family adventure that will delight young viewers as well as their folks, “Child of the Wild” chronicles the true yearlong expedition of the director, his wife and their baby girl as they traverse the Canadian Rockies through the Yukon to Dawson, Alaska, with only horses and then a team of sled dogs for company. With its sustained feel for the majesty of the great outdoors, pic will make even the most sedentary viewer want to rush out and commune with nature. Kid distribs and nature channels should immediately “mush” to acquire this unpretentious charmer. B.O. in France has been good for a specialized pic.

A 15-year veteran of rugged wilderness adventures, Nicolas Vanier set off in the summer of 1994 with his relatively inexperienced wife, Diane, and their 21 -month-old daughter, Montaine. After 700 kilometers on horseback, they built a log cabin using basic tools and lived there — hunting, fishing and sewing fur garments — until the snow-clad terrain was frozen. A 1,700-kilometer expedition via dog sled followed.

Cut off from civilization after a hydroplane delivers a team of huskies to their remote cabin, husband and wife took turns operating the camera in temperatures that sometimes dropped to 45 below. Despite the constant struggle to cover ground, obtain food, stay warm and bunk safely for the night, helmer communicates his intimate take on nature via bold and inventive camera placement.

Elk graze, geese fly and bear cubs roughhouse as the camera establishes unspoiled vistas of uncommon beauty. Whether the Vaniers are fjording rivers, slogging through deep snow or shooting a grizzly that threatens the family larder, their rustic journey, 100 years after the Alaskan gold rush, is a hymn to self-reliance. The family is attractive and resolutely outdoorsy without looking like they stepped out of the pages of some wilderness supply catalog.

Pic’s musical score is a tad heavy on the synthesizers. Only glitch in the saga is a few awkward stabs at re-creating dialogue for the camera. Sparse voiceovers and couple’s succinct conversations are in French, but could be dubbed into any language to accommodate young viewers.

Montaine was 3 in the spring of 1995 when she saw her first town, Dawson, where Jack London wrote “White Fang.” As she looks wide-eyed at other people, houses and cars, her parents explain that “cities are full of people the same way the wilderness is full of animals.”

Child of the Wild

(FRENCH)

Production

An AB Films Distribution release. (International sales: AB Films, Paris.) Produced by Claude Berda. Directed by Nicolas Vanier.

Crew

Camera (color), Nicolas Vanier, Diane Vanier; editor, Dominique Mallen; music, Gerard Salesses; sound (Dolby), Diane Vanier, Pierre Devanture; assistant director/project adviser, Victor Cohen Hadria; second unit camera, Thierry Bounoune, Hugues de Leon, Alain Rastignon, Roger Felkes, Serge Hussam. Reviewed at Espace St. Michel Cinema, Paris, Jan. 2, 1996. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

With: Montaine Vanier, Diane Vanier, Nicolas Vanier.
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