Bluray Review – The Childhood of a Leader (2016)


Obviously working with such auteur directors as Von Trier, Haneke and Campos has rubbed off on actor turned director Brady Corbet.

Corbet is going for broke here in a refreshing way – even the opening credits are literary and experimental. The Childhood of a Leader is at its best when it uncouples itself from narrative, led into the wilderness of montage and dream sequences by Scott Walker‘s phenomenal score. With its pummelling strings, jabs of electronica and clattering, modernist percussion, it could fit comfortably on any of his recent solo albums – it even sounds like he’s got the side of pork out again for some of it.

So Corbet’s style is solid, and he has some good performances. Bérenice Béjo always looks hemmed-in playing straight, and this is unfortunately, no exception, but Tom Sweet as her son is a terrific discovery. His scenes with the great Yolande Moreau as his maid are particularly well-judged, showing a vulnerability that will only retreat as the story moves forward. Nobody who goes to see a modern arthouse movie will fall out of their chair in surprise to see Robert Pattinson and Stacy Martin in it, but they both earn their place too with subtle, sincere performances.

It might be that Sweet’s character is meant to be emblematic of fascism itself, rather than any particular leader, but even here the movie pulls its punches. Not only does this film’s title flag up that the lead will eventually mature, but he rarely does anything truly abhorrent, all we really see a series of tantrums at his parents. Given that Béjo and Liam Cunningham‘s characters are portrayed as starchy, hypocritical, adulterous, cruel to their servants and unthinkingly obedient to a failing political order, who could fail to back their little shitlord against them?

I didn’t quite appreciate the ending (mainly because I didn’t really understand it) and at the beginning , it was pretty hard to hear what anyone was saying but apart from that it’s pretty much brilliant.

The 1080p presentation is very good. The film is primarily set inside buildings, sometimes in the dark, and as the transfer it isn’t perfect, shots that are in shadow are sometimes hard to make out.

Special features include a commentary from director Brady Corbet. Corbet (only after listening to it did I discover how to properly pronounce his name) does seem to um and ah quite a bit but he still gives an erudite and smart commentary taking I such aspects as the amount of countries he had to go and ask for funding and the fact that he had the idea and the script for years before he could even start making the film.

Also included is an ambiguous but effective short film that Corbet made when he was only 18/19 years old, featuring Daniel London.

An isolated score track is also included (bluray only). It is a very nice addition, only marred by the fact that there is only 25-30 minutes of music in the actual film so there is 90 minutes of silence. Still, it is nice to see where tracks fitted in to the film. Fantastic score but if you want to listen to it, just buy it.
A theatrical trailer rounds of the extras package.

Peter Fletcher

Drama, Mystery, Horror | USA, 2015 | 15 | 30th January 2017 (UK) | Soda Pictures | Dir.Bradley Corbet | Tom Sweet, Liam Cunningham, Stacy Martin, Bérénice Bejo, Sophie Curtis | Buy: [Blu-ray]