The best movies to see this monthby Francine Stock / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
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.