The Fox & the Child (2007)
It has been described as both a nature documentary and a "fairy tale" look at the story of young girl and her friendship with a fox.
Riding her bicycle on her way to school, a dreamy, ten-year-old, red-haired farm girl decides to take a shortcut through a ruddy and luscious autumn forest, somewhere in the mountainous region of eastern France. Unexpectedly, the young girl encounters a bright-eyed red fox, however, the untamed wild animal flees in an instant, leaving her longing to meet again. Since then, a whole winter has passed and still no sign of the elusive fox, but with the arrival of spring, the girl determined to find the animal, finally locates its den and an ambitious effort to grow accustomed to each other begins. As we witness a succession of compelling scenes, lost inside the enchanting and breathlessly exquisite landscape, we observe the bond between a human and a savage animal grow gradually stronger, yet, a wish and question emerge. If only we, humans, could talk to the wild beasts, and if we could, could we ever become friends?
- A young girl of about 10 years lives in a solitary peasant's house on the edge of the jurassic mountains in the East of France. One day in autumn, when she is on her way to school through the forest, she observes a hunting fox. Of course, the fox flees from her, but the girl feels a strong desire to meet the fox again.
During the following months, she spends most of her free time in the forests, exploring the nature, observing many different animals, but above all searching for the fox. Yet, she never sees the fox again before winter comes. During the winter, already knowing how to distinguish the tracks various animals leave in the snow, she follows fox's traces far across the fields, through woods and thickets. Still, she does not find the fox, but instead, she is terrified by the howling of wolves close by. In panic, she tries to run home, but seriously hurts her ankle during her flight.
The film does not explain how she manages to get back home at all; maybe, she manages to walk despite her injury, maybe her parents miss her, search for her and carry her back. In any case, the healing of her injured leg takes all the rest of the winter. She cannot leave the house any more, but spends lots of time reading books about the wild animals of the woods, above all about foxes.
During springtime, the girl resumes her roaming in the woods. She already knows how to identify fox's kennels. Finding many of them, she finds some empty, some blocked by people who consider foxes harmful animals that should be hunted down and killed. But she also finds a kennel that's obviously inhabited. Sitting down behind the bushes some dozens of meters away from the kennel, she patiently waits for the fox to come out or to come home. But the fox, having cast its young, is particularly shy and wary, not showing itself when the girl is near. In fact, it is so disquieted that it starts removing its young to a different hole in order to hide them from the spying human. By chance, just when the fox carries one of its young out of the kennel, the girl returns and sees it leaving.
The girl understands that the fox is extremely frightened, so she decides not to try to find the new hiding. On the other hand, she guesses that the new hole must be close, so she watches the scene from a larger distance: From the branches of an old beech near the edge of the forest. And indeed, after many fruitless and uneventful watches, the fox finally shows itself.
During the following weeks, the girl is gradually taming the fox: At first, the intervals at which the girl sees the fox decrease, but the fox is always staying far away from the girl and flees as soon as they become aware of each other. When the girl starts to put pieces of bacon in a line leading to her tree, the fox starts coming closer. After many weeks, the fox still flees from the girl, but allows her to follow at a distance: They start roaming the fields and woods together in this peculiar manner. The girl, from her perspective, gets the impression that the fox is showing her around the forest - in any case, she comes to know many new places and things in the forest that she wasn't aware of before.
Again, many weeks pass before the fox starts taking meat from the girl's hand and still longer before it allows her to touch it, but finally, the fox enjoys being fondled like a dog. It even leads the girl to its kennel where she meets the young foxes, too.
During the summer, while following the fox, the girl lives through many adventures: jumping across a mountain creek in a deep and narrow ravine, nearly getting lost in a karst cave, passing a night in the forest, utterly scared by the sounds of the night in the forest and by several pairs of eyes glowing at her out of the dark, protecting one of the young foxes from a hunting bird of prey, meating a brown bear, finally saving her fox from a hunting pride of wolves, scaring the wolves away by jumping and shouting on the top of her voice.
After all these adventures and after becoming accustomed to the fox behaving as a tame animal, the girl starts playing children's role games while the fox is around: giving the fox a name, talking to it, imagining a house in the middle of the wood, lighting a fire "on the hearth", treating the fox as "her dog", giving it a necklace and a leash. Finally, she leads the fox to the house where she lives, and even though it is very frightened, it follows her up the stairs into her chamber. She tries to play with "her" fox as people would at times play with a dog: for example, hiding under the bed and the table and chasing each other around the room, nearly starting a tussle on the floor. But it turns out the the fox cannot stand the closed room: It starts jumping along the walls and across the furniture trying to escape, throwing toys off the shelves, breaking dishes and vases, getting more and more agitated, finally jumping in panic out through the closed window, breaking the glass. The girl finds it in the court, covered with blood and having lost conscience.
Strangely enough, even though the girl is obviously used to keeping pets and farm animals, the thought of searching help from a veterinarian doesn't occur to her. Perhaps she has still kept the fox as a secret she didn't tell even her parents about; perhaps the next veterinarian is living so far away that she has no hope to carry the fox that far; perhaps she thinks that no man would tend a fox, often having seen hunters catching, shooting, even poisoning foxes. Anyway, she carries the fox back to its kennel, rather mourning for it than tending it, not even removing the necklace before the young foxes start tearing at the cloth. In fact, it's rather the young foxes tending their mother, licking its wounds.
The girl is deeply shocked and ashamed and utterly helpless. When she sees that the fox still lives, not knowing whether it will indeed survive, she finally walks away. During the following days, she often returns to the places where the two liked to meet, but never again she approaches the kennel. The girl feels that her friendship with the fox can never again be exactly as it was before. In a way, she has betrayed their friendship. All the same, that autumn and during part of the winter, the two sometimes meet in the wild, the girl now treating the fox with tender but restrained respect. During the winter, the girl loses track of the fox, never seing it again.
A decade later, she explains to her young son the lesson she learnt from that episode: True friendship between human and animal is extremely difficult to attain because the human will inevitably be tempted to domesticate the animal, changing its character and life, longing to own it instead of just watching, liking and meeting it. After the horrible scene in her chamber, the girl decided that the wild animal must always be free to decide what it wants and what it doesn't want to do: "I promised to the fox that it must always be her to choose the game, that never again i would try to force any game upon her - because i could never know whether she would like it."