2015 – UK, France, Hungary
Director: Brady Corbet
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Stacy Martin, Liam Cunningham
Words: R. Topham
On paper, the origin story of a fictitious fascist leader loosely inspired by Mussolini sounds very straight-to-DVD, and, as a (kind of) adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s story of the same name, there was a real danger it could’ve been an uninspiring calamity of chauvinism. But, thankfully, it grips you in all the right places and its retrospect saves you from growing attached to the eponymous demon child.
The film opens with a tremendously ominous tone, in part due to the powerfully disturbing music provided by Scott Walker, a score which carries the volatile aura of the film beautifully and compliments the vexed performances from Bérénice Bejo as the solemn Mother and newcomer Tom Sweet as face-of-an-angel but mind-of-a-sociopath Prescott, aka the future Leader.
Like a messed up episode of Frasier, the film is split into acts, otherwise known as Prescott’s most notable ‘tantrums’, as the case may be. Prescott’s escalating hostility towards his mother is exacerbated (bit of an understatement) when she parts ways with Mona, their family maid and the boy’s only friend. This, mixed with an underlying sexual confusion and infatuation with his French teacher, ripens a cathartic savagery that’s been steadily brewing throughout the film. The results are reasonably predictable considering the context of the film is something of a fait accompli, but are tragic and quite startling nonetheless.
Considering The Childhood of a Leader is Corbet’s directorial debut, his consummate eye for detail and talent for tension is an exciting glimmer of things to come. In what is a truly astonishing stylistic creation, Corbet utilises some elegant light trickery as good as Carol Reed’s seminal noir The Third Man and masterful framing for optimum antipathy – not to mention the disorienting final scene that cuts to black so abruptly you’re almost paralysed in your seat waiting for more, like a dog that’s waiting to be handed a treat after a walk.
Neither shy nor overtly offensive, subtle nor brutal, The Childhood of a Leader is probably the most intriguing and unusual cinematic experience of the year, and has all of the morose qualities theatrical dramas have been missing lately.