With excellent staging and film work, alongside an interesting use of music throughout, Diarmaid McCaffrey argues that Brady Corbet's directorial debut will certainly leave a lasting impression.
Instead of opening on the face of the titular leader to be, Prescott, (played by Tom Sweet) the film opens on real life footage of events to come.
Eardrum-shattering, screeching violins play over silent black and white footage of people picking up their lives after the end of World War 1 and are preparing themselves for the Treaty of Versailles, more or less giving the audience a brief rundown on the events surrounding the movie, but also the events that will one day shape Prescott into the man he’ll become by the end of the film.
Post World War I is a world of general confusion, tension and very shady politics.
Brady Corbet’s directorial debut tells the story of Prescott’s family. He’s the son of an American diplomat and a highly educated mother (Berenice Bejo and Liam Cunningham) who are in Paris to participate in the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles.
While they work in Paris, his mother tries to give her son an upper-class education. Prescott lives with his parents and a few servants in their home in France.
His father is busy working, and while he’s at home, he’s rather distant. His father leaves him in the care of his mother who coddles him.
Bored and feeling lonely, Prescott entertains himself with terrible pranks including throwing stones at children, tormenting his tutor (Stacy Martin) and manipulating the adults surrounding him to his heart’s content. Occassionally family friend Charles (Robert Pattinson) sometimes wanders by as the voice of reason.
The film, which follows the constant war for control between the parents and Prescott, is split into three chapters.
Each one focuses on a massive tantrum from the child, marking his slow transformation from small boy to a little tyrant, after which very intense Nazis-est epilogue brings us thirty years into the future, showing us the much bigger tyrant that the little one has become in a very disorientating manner.
In terms of staging, Corbet’s film is pretty impressive. The camera-work totally compliments the almost claustrophobic atmosphere the film conveys.
Also worth mentioning are the great understated performances of Bejo and the small boy. Sweet in particular gives a cold, distant performance that’s just chilling.
The music in particular, by Scott Walker – he of Walker Brothers fame before he turned all avant garde on us – deserves to be singled out.
The score is almost solely comprised of screeching violins and booming chords that reverberates like a weight dropping.
It’s interesting to note that it often plays over dull and static images: someone climbing the stairs, or a group of cars going down a road, but during very dramatic, intense scenes, are met with nothing but silence. This makes for great unconventional storytelling devices.
Overall The Childhood of a Leader is a fascinating film and is likely to stay with you for some time.
Even if the film lags in places and is shocking in some places, one thing is for certain - it will definitely leave a lasting impression.