This ominous study of the evolution of evil follows the progress of a young boy who will one day grow up to become an infamous fascist despot. Growing up in France in 1918, Prescott’s (Tom Sweet) childhood develops in close proximity to the fateful drafting of the Treaty of Versailles, as his father is a diplomat helping to craft its text. As the boy witnesses first-hand the severe societal changes of a continent in transition, his beliefs are moulded, and we witness the birth of a terrifying ego.
While not based on a specific dictator, but rather an amalgam of several historical figures, Childhood of a Leader is an incisive examination of Europe’s painful history which chimes with today’s re-emergence of continental tumult. It’s even more impressive for being the debut work from American actor Brady Corbet, best known for his association with the Borderline Films collective that produced distinctive US indies such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, James White and Christine. With an intriguing international cast that includes Bérénice Bejo, Liam Cunningham and Robert Pattinson, performing in mix of different languages, this is a bold, highly confident opening statement from its first-time director; one which has drawn comparisons to Michael Haneke’s similar pre-Fascism parable, The White Ribbon. If that weren’t recommendation enough, the film’s stark visuals are accompanied by a marvellously oppressive orchestral score from the great Scott Walker.