Brady Corbet’s first film as director has several excellent and even jaw-dropping elements, but the glacial pace does try viewers’ patience. Explicit division into three acts using title cards does nothing to allay this, but it’s one way in which The Childhood of a Leader bears the trace of Corbet’s evidently detailed knowledge of early cinema history. He clearly has an innate understanding of film form too, and this results in a rare visual splendour despite the drab colour palette of many interior scenes. There are painstaking tableaus which call to mind Vermeer’s paintings of servants at work – a comparison Corbet would probably welcome. The Childhood of a Leader is no stranger to pretension; Jean-Paul Sartre, whose 1939 short story of the same name has been cited as an influence, is among a list of famous figures thanked in the credits.
Scott Walker’s orchestral Hitchcockian score is perfect for the material. In fact, the only technical faux pas are a few inexplicable uses of soft focus which stick out like sore thumbs and jar with the subject matter. However, Lol Crawley’s cinematography and the editing work harmoniously, especially in picking quiet yet evocative fly-on-the-wall details out of crowd scenes.
Pattinson’s first scene is a revelation that should put Twilight to bed for good, but Tom Sweet is the greatest casting success. Corbet makes masterful decisions about when to let a shot play out, and Sweet does his best work in these patient, silent moments.
The Childhood of a Leader is a skilful debut and beautiful cinematic text which causes a pervading mood of discomfort. Though its aesthetic elements are usually in perfect accord, the narrative is frustratingly murky and indulgent, and it’s hard to ignore the palpable feeling of Corbet’s smugness.
CAST: Robert Pattinson, Stacy Martin, Liam Cunningham, Bérénice Bejo, Tom Sweet
DIRECTOR: Brady Corbet
WRITERS: Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold
SYNOPSIS: A young American boy living in France in 1918 witnesses his father working on the Treaty of Versailles.