This is the first film by Brady Corbet whose newly released film Vox Lux, appearing earlier in this Blog, has been well received.
Excerpted from The Guardian of London – Peter Bradshaw, 8.16.2016
This steely, sinister and utterly gripping movie is the feature debut of 28-year-old actor-turned-director Brady Corbet. It’s an inspired provocation, jabbing its audience with a fictional variant on history, and loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1939 short story of the same name.
The film imagines the wealthy, dysfunctional and unhappy childhood of someone fated to become a fascist leader: the action, disturbing enough in any case, is retroactively charged with this poisonous destiny. Newcomer Tom Sweet plays Prescott, the unhappy 10-year-old son of an American career diplomat (Liam Cunningham), who is in France in 1919 as part of US president Woodrow Wilson’s retinue, there to establish postwar settlement terms to be imposed at Versailles on the defeated Germans.
The Childhood of a Leader is structured around Prescott’s tantrums: a conceit that might bring to mind Hitler’s creepy diplomatic practice of pretending to be very angry, while not really being angry at all. This young leader is growing up in a world where all of the adults are telling him about the importance of rejecting anger, embracing forgiveness. The local priest gives sermons on this theme, and Prescott’s tutor makes a deep impression on him with the Aesop fable about the virtues of gentleness in power; the lion who befriends a humble mouse. Yet Prescott can see that power is actually working in quite another direction.