Childhood of a Leader On release from 19th August
Around the publication of La nausée in 1938, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a short story about an only child who grows up to become a fascist. This first feature directed by 27-year-old American actor Brady Corbet takes elements of that existentialist novella and winds in biographical details of the early lives of 20th-century European dictators. The action takes place in France towards the end of the First World War. Berénice Béjo and Liam Cunningham play the itinerant diplomat parents, alternately indulgent and distant, of Prescott, a boy of startling, effeminate beauty (Tom Sweet). There’s also a supporting, though pivotal, role for Robert Pattinson.
It’s not a typical contemporary debut: for a start it’s shot on 35mm celluloid. Corbet, who co-scripts with his Norwegian partner Mona Fastvold, received Best Director at last summer’s Venice Film Festival for what feels sometimes a knowing tribute to European cinema—from hints of Luchino Visconti to Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist and touches of European horror recalling Pan’s Labyrinth or The Others.
So what does it reveal? That monsters begin with an extraordinary sense of self, a singularity combined with isolation, defining themselves as special through contrary behaviour. As it dashes from Freud to religion to politics, the film fails ultimately to provide any fresh insight. Yet its mood and execution are remarkable and, at this particular moment, it has a cautionary feel—not just for individuals but also for countries that consider themselves special and separate.
Julieta On release from 26th August
Three years after the tedious silliness of Pedro Almodóvar’s airline farce I’m so Excited comes this welcome return to his particular strength, melodrama built around formidable female characters. It’s a puzzle centred on an estranged mother and daughter. The source? A trio of short stories by that apparently least Hispanic of writers, Alice Munro.
Behemoth On release from 19th August
Dante’s descent into Hell frames Zhao Liang’s documentary about the environmental destruction wrought on the plains of Inner Mongolia by coal mining. Even in an age of documentaries about cataclysm, Behemoth provides breathtaking juxtapositions of nature and industry, man and machine on a scale somewhere between Gustave Doré and Sebastião Salgado. One for contemplation, however, rather than narrative drive.