The Fox and the Child

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2008, 12:00am

Starring: Bertille Noel-Bruneau, Isabelle Carre, Thomas Laliberte

Director: Luc Jacquet

Category: I (French)

Three years after attaining worldwide success with March of the Penguins - a nature documentary that won an Oscar, scaled box office heights unprecedented in its genre and inspired two animation features in Hollywood about the white-bellied Antarctic denizens - French biologist-turned-filmmaker Luc Jacquet returns closer to home with his latest outing. Set in eastern France and based on an episode from his childhood, The Fox and the Child revolves around a young, unnamed girl (Bertille Noel-Bruneau, right) and Tatou, a red fox she befriends in the mountains near her rural home. As the child tries to tame her snouted pal, the relationship leads to heartbreak and a realisation about the need for distance between human beings and wild animals.

The Fox and the Child is a more intimate affair than the epic March, and decidedly more accessible and explicit in its eco-message. The imagery, however, is no less breathtaking. The French countryside is unveiled in vivid splendour, with the changes in its appearance through the seasons shown with utmost care and staggering beauty. Life in the natural world unfolds complete with its warmth (the mating dance between the foxes, and the way Tatou nurtures her young) and dangers (the chase between Tatou and an Eurasian lynx is as gripping as any shown in wildlife documentaries).

Noel-Bruneau turns in a vigorous performance, radiating the energy to give life to the narration by her adult self (voiced by Isabelle Carre, who makes a brief appearance at the end telling the story to her young son, played by Thomas Laliberte). But human presence is seen in the film as just one of many forms of existence in the vast natural landscape, with Jacquet frequently presenting the girl as just a dot in the vista. As the child remarks, 'I felt really small in nature.'

While she's an observer, Noel-Bruneau's character - and human life in general - is also being observed. The point is made clear when she brings Tatou to a vantage point overlooking her home, the pair gazing at human domesticity in the fashion of Jacquet's observations of penguins, hedgehogs or foxes.

It's the filmmaker's deftness at making everything his subject and conjuring engaging relationships between them that makes The Fox and the Child an amusing experience.

The Fox and the Child opens next Thursday