“That old prickly Hanake did it, why can’t I?”

That’s what the 27 years old Brady Corbet should have thought while he chose to approach and re-elaborate a story by Jean-Paul Sartre to make his The Childhood of a Leader, his tiresome work in stage costume which focuses on the little but meaningful traumas of the tiny Prescott, the son of a diplomatic American man who struggles with the famous (but infamous) Treaty of Versailles, that would have bring Germany to its knees, paving the way to Nazism.

The aim of this young debuting director, who presented the movie in Horizons section of the 72nd Venice Film Festival, wasn’t totally blameworthy: actually, the origins of the waves of evil that invaded Europe, though already at the center of great movies, is still a territory only partly explored in cinema, in comparison with the more sad arrival of dictatorships in the Old Country. But good intentions are not enough to automatically promote a product, especially due to the question of the age distance between Corbet and Hanake in The White Ribbon; this distance could have guarantee to The Childhood of a Leader a fresh tone but this freshness is not spotted at all. Moreover, the political background intertwines badly with the teen turmoils of the tiny Prescott, that is something that affects nothing the restrictions dictated to Germany, once the war ended. 
The fundamental element of the movie and, in the humble point of view of the undersigned, the driving force which gives a drama tone to it all, is the almost deafening soundtrack by Scott Waler, that uses obsessive arches that link perfectly to the repertory of war images and to the darkest moments of the historical painting of the American director. Among the cast, Berenice Bejo in the role of the repressed and religious mother of the protagonist and Stacy Martin (already appreciated in Nymphomaniac) in the role of a yound lady who teach French to the boy, are the ones who emerge. Even Liam Cunningham’s is a good performance, as a sever patriarch, and Robert Pattinson’s cameo doesn’t hit a wrong note, in a double role that, in the finale, creates one of the most interesting moments of the movie (and also the one in which there’s the clearest reference to Sartre).
The movie seems to be an half-taken opportunity, a confused hodgepodge in which, nevertheless, some worthy visual ingredients can’t be ignored. If Corbet improves his storytelling qualities, we have no doubts that he will stand out among the scenario of the young American debuting directors.

By Alessia Pelonzi
Translation by Bianca Baroni
Photos: Alessio Costantino
In collaboration with

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