It’s hard to hate The Fox and the Child; the film’s heart is in exactly the right place and it boasts some truly gorgeous photography, but all its intention and beauty is not matched by the narrative. While sweet, the story is sparse and most of the time treading water, so you’re left feeling more sympathetic toward it. So well made by craftspeople with an obvious eye for detail and storytelling, it had a lot of potential and was capable of much more than a pass.
March of the Penguins director Luc Jacquet here makes a departure into fictional film making. While not a documentary The Fox and the Child has similar aims of his previous effort: to show nature and those who live in it in all their glory.
When it reached English shores it came with an added narration from Kate Winslet and a marketing campaign twee to the point of being off-putting. In fairness, it is not an easy film to sell, as its potential audience seems smaller than most – it’s easy to imagine those interested in a film about nature would much rather be out in it instead.
The film follows the straightforward story of an unnamed young girl (Bertille Noël-Bruneau) who encounters a wild vixen fox that she follows into the woodlands, where she keeps returning to through the changing seasons in the hope of finding her again. At first she observes from a distance as the fox is fiercely independent and wary of humans, but through sharing experiences of the outdoors together, they start to form a bond.
The Fox and the Child is one of the most gentle films you will ever see, as it is mostly concerned with the eponymous Canidae and youngster exploring the wilderness of Ain in southern France, where the film was shot. Aside from the girl naming the fox Lily and discovering she is a mother to cubs, the film is very loosely structured until about the last fifteen minutes, when it tries to come to some conclusion.
Its gentility however comes at a cost: after a while the film feels repetitive and slow, particularly as there are no real plot developments for much of the way. Nothing happens to threaten the relationship between the two and when they do find themselves in a precarious situation, the danger is always resolved swiftly and easily.
With an emphasis on themes over story, Jacquet seems to be attempting more to capture a child’s sense of innocence, curiosity and wonder, in a similar way to The Red Balloon. While The Fox and the Child is nowhere near as sensible, it does manage to evoke a lot of the feeling of being young and free through characters that, despite being from different species and only one able to speak, have a believable relationship. The story feels emotional without getting too sentimental and is so harmless that the forgiving would be able to overlook the faults, though the rest will definitely be fidgeting at times.
Winslet’s narration is workable but her dialogue contains a bit too much detail and exposition. In the original French version the voice of Isabellé Carre guided us through proceedings as part of a wraparound where she tells the story to her young son. Nothing audible is a match for the visual storytelling: we get a greater sense of the relationship between the main characters in a single shot of them sat together than from any amount of dialogue explaining that.
Showing an ability to convey story and emotion through photography and editing, Jacquet really should have had more faith in his imagery, that alone could have carried a modest and amiable story like this one. The Fox and the Child pushes through its problems but could have been a bigger success had it relied on its visuals – and maybe added a little more story.