An aesthetic tour-de-force if also an empty and unfailingly derivative one, actor Brady Corbet’s directorial debut, The Childhood of a Leader, is based on a Jean-Paul Sartre short story, but pares down its psychologically complex source to essentially a gothic bad seed horror flick. Posing as a grander exploration of European society after the Great War, and its responsibility for the rise of fascism in World War II, Corbet’s film is closer in its depth (or lack of it) to Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin in that the kid here seems to possess an inherent evil that his intolerant parents merely exasperate. Corbet gets the Kubrick-by-way-of-Glazer atmosphere just right, in no small part thanks to Scott Walker’s tremendous score (half classical symphony, half avant-garde industrial noise—and wholly one of the greatest pieces of original music composed for a film this century), but he’s content to largely just mope around in it through five titled sections of no real distinction. The film merely feels like an undeveloped wasted opportunity—until the last section jumps into the future, straining for a heavy historical context it doesn’t even begin to earn.
Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2016.