The Childhood of a Leader

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The Childhood of a Leader  Director. Brady Corbet . Writers. Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold Based on The Childhood of a Leauder by Jean-Paul Sartre
Cast. Bérénice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, Stacy Martin, Robert Pattinson, Tom Sweet.
Music by Scott Walker. Cinematography Lol Crawley. Edited by Dávid Jancsó. Rated PG. Duration. 1hr 56mins. English with some subtitles. Filmed in Hungary.

The films basis

From a novice director, Brady Corbet comes a fully formed insular chamber piece.  It presents a story originated by Jean Paul Sarte which itself searched the psycology of childhood.  His book Words – an introduction I grew up on which itself declared Sarte was not the over complicated author people thought – his quote from it is famous – I loathe my childhood and all that remains of it … So he plays out this troubled time in his stories.  The Childhood of a Leader is the summation of a look into the past and where the hatred and turmoil emerges in this small internalised boy taking on his elders.

 What’s in the picture

This film is overwrought trying too hard on a budget of £5M to reclaim some kudos for first time director and actor Brady Corbet ably assisted by fine performances.  The heavy ostentation given in exclamation marks of the score – the sixties deep voiced balladeer Scott Walker took a avant garde turn late in his career dumping the work which made him famous and tried composing and rearranging songs – whether it is suitable here is up to you to decide but it was just more mish mash for me and rendered the work insipid. The film begins with stock b/w footage of the World War 1  and is called by way of what? – insightful connective tissue? – Overture. Indeed. Not.
It moves into the grainy introspection of a Church Choir in rural France away from the neighbouring Versailles talks in which the father of the central character of the boy Prescott played by Tom Sweet is absently involved as a mediator.  I at once thought the father played brilliantly with very serious and convincing effect as an absentee Dad, by Liam Cunnigham with resolute American accent, is in a quandary if he cannot control his son.  No affection is seen between them.  His mother equally is not versed in raising children and doubts arise if she ever intended to marry, so although mastering four languages cannot communicate with her son either.  He has no schooling to worry about, no siblings or pay ate foils to vent his anger and it is into a series of (3) chapters of tantrums we are lead.

First tantrum concerns the very Church first mentioned.  A French Catholic box like chapel on a town land where Prescott engages in hissy fit no.1.  Violent in kind.  Here enters the only – Mona excepted, the aging housemaid and sometimes broker in difficult situations – is the Father Leydu. The only nice rational person seen! No affinity can be found with anyone.  In negotiations an aside is thrown of a stock Irishman concluding religious differences should be resolved in any agreements – maybe it was on a Good Friday. Trials and torments ensue and caught in the middle are the housemaid, Mona and an English teacher of French, the gentle youthful vital girl Adelaide played by Stacy Martin.  She is conformist to begin with but baulks as Prescotts manipulations gather pace.  She is an angel of sorts, Brady makes no bones about showing us her credible persona.  A credit to Ade in the final roll call needs further research.  The titles are shown practically full length at the beginning and repeated after the ultimate point of closure.  It has many faults – the inevitable black horses and Breton dress of mid – France is overplayed. The film is shot in a very dilapidated Hungarian lodge of rambling unhouse like appearance.  More resembles aHunting lodge and inn.  It is full of drapery.  Father Leydu has a verynice muslin drape and some elements of interior are well achieved.  Setting tables is quite a standard thing in period pieces for authenticity and here is no exception.


Friend of the Director, Robert Pattison plays leadenly an English journalist with a sad backstory and he is very fond in most senses of Madame – Bérénice Bejo. She is concious of the closeness of the environment and the darkness overshadowing the place with her own lack of purpose other than running a house which is nothing to engage her intellect with.  Brady Corbet in fact presents no context except the wrongful idiom of idleness for her and Bérénice Bejo does her damnedest to extract some characterisations to grasp hold of.  Perhaps it is this projection of failing he wishes upon her with affectations leading you to think she has leaning towards Ade who she in part envies.

The black horses and pictorial grainy setting is very attractive to look at and the still painterly pace of scenes with long walking shots towards a fixed position and repaetative location of camera positions – ie. Prescotts bedroom.  The lounge and library are fixed allowing some pondering over the detail.  Exterior shots are expansive contrasts to the heaviness of the lodge interiors and we see a pivotal element when the talks are adjourned to this location for ‘secret’ unconstrained talks. The glass empty of politics is given a full texturalisation here for a pungent flavour of the almighty flawed carve-up brought about to allow Germany – in the main to repair itself from a path taken.  It fits a narrative style of Capitalism being first in line to receive the bonefides of each.

A coruscating element – is that contender for that Northern Ireland extracted Woodrow Wilson overlord –  over stretching his high most to create a freedom contemptuous of the Native American stock and the Racial conspiracies of his homeland which were along time, (are they yet still unresolved) being prepared for their own reparations.  Ask most races on the planet who have been under the cosh of imposters and they will advise you the Irish North and South have been instrumental through their impeachment of the Lord in various guises one of which are appropriate to the oneness of the creator, for numerous continued injustices. Aboriginals are aghast just now at a facial cartoon to hit the Antipodean cultural fermament.


Childhood Satre reminiscences. The Psycology.

I found Words very disconcerting in my teenage years, in the sharpness of thought and given the life Satre had it was of significance.  The film concerns a sociopathic child, the young son of an American diplomat living in France as he learns to manipulate the adults around him teaching him fascistic tendencies. The tendency as a kid growing up at least at Prescotts age is to believe all childhood life’s are the same but then the truth sharply roses up and throttles you.

These times are the post war leading up to the signing of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and even though the film does not refer to the fact – Scott Berg, Pulitzer Prize winning author wrote in his Woodrow Wilson autobiography that the USA President spent nearly nine moths in Versailles in attendance unbeknownst to his electorate. Scott Berg also claims him to be the most important man of the 20th century.  The case he makes in his book. – without this hanging over the film and the peculiar manipulations of Prescott, played by British child actor Tom Sweet, is of isolation within his family setting without a father  – the father here Liam Cunningham as I said is on top of his game, is he would appear lack negotiation skills one would have thought appropriate for a diplomat as he is so easily manipulated.

The construct is to my mind – that of the Jean-Paul Sarte mould of not beholding to anyone – here it begets the  state of violence (in the child ruthlessly exploiting the non-existence of boundaries) and indicates the shallow threshold breached to succumb to the ungodliness of the act in the adult as preparation for war.  The idea is one of the striking prophetic (Words is a summation written in 1964) analytical examinations within the works of Jean-Paul Sarte when compared even with contemporary scientific, root and branch knowledge gathering attained by the human race in the intervening years.


Jean-Paul Sarte film influences.

Jean-Paul Sarte was brought up in a world eighty years behind the present, by his grandfather, after the early loss of his father.  He also was a war prisoner.  Far from it being a restless uncertain childhood, he had a fortuitous learned upbringing.  His father who was of Alsace (?) background was a man who took on the physical appearance of the Holy father to many people – big dominant full beard – and was quite authoritarian.  The fact Jean-Baptiste, the father died while Jean-Paul was quite young proved something of a blessing.  J-P wrote – and this plays directly into the film – Even the most authoritarian gives orders in someone else’s name, some holy parasite – his father – and passes on abstract violence since he himself accepts.  J-P avoided this acceptance of obedience and in his mother Anne-Marie, who was compelled to return to her parents to raise her child, found herself again imprisoned.  J-P discovered he had no Super-ego  – he reflects on this later, (the child presumably not into those words, sociopath included) with his father not being there, piggy backing his codes. His father had shirked his responsibilities and left this world aged thirty. Instead for parental guidance as well as the wealth of books his grandfather spent days over,  J-P’s giantess of a passive mother was his sister almost, with her becoming a child again in widowhood like a virgin tarnished in her childhood home. Her name was Schweitzer.  Anne-Marie would share her troubles with ease, and engendering a democratic spirit I thought, and he promised devoted protection.

This is the basis of the ‘incestuous’ (it was merely I thought a writers trope for discovery through writing itself) narrative Jean-Paul Satre has used on several occasions and indeed this is evident in this film.  He imagined in fact that he and his mother who shared a bedroom were the ‘children’, both minors and both maintained.  He maintained; and it is completely plausible, given his acute ability to analyse human constructs, that – In fact, my fathers hasty retreat had conferred on me a very incomplete Oedipus complex; no super-ego, I agree but no aggression, either.  My mother was mine and no-one challenged my quite possession.  He – and it is crucial to his personality – was not exposed to jealousy directly nor was he subjected to other people’s violence’s and hatred’s.  No one else’s whim claimed to be my law.

I think you basically have the scope of this film right here in the Words of Jean-Paul Satre.  On top of which is…

Germany’s largesse and power lust.

Evident in political history is the emergence – aside from his own childhood – the effect the grander scheme of things, here it is The Versailles Treaty, – is Hitlers continuing presence in Austrias Parliment in Vienna as a young boy, a teenager fascinated by the whole Central European amalgam that had this Parliment represent so many regions and languages. Incidentally it was languages which provided a living, the early upbringing of Jean-Paul Satre when they moved to Paris. Hitler while he grew into it, did not then set adult upon adult, he was witnessing their own account of differences; he compiled a version of required leadership which had him at the head and formed the volitile and violent mind to enact it.

It is the lebensraum effected by the ruthless – the additional territory considered by a nation, especially Nazi Germany, to be necessary for national survival or for the expansion of trade.  Britain may, most probably, also have been enactors of this ruthless expansion.  It operates in the child to man as discovery of the inner self is made from making new space, where we can move around inside ourselves.  A secret personal representation – from thinking.

Being in a position of power leaders have often is unable to defer from his own presence in the public realm and so – as Hitler was inclined, falls to art and architecture for a prop of the psyche of higher things and these present ideals.  Music is here employed to effect as well. There are similarities to the Swedish rulers he may have learnt from.  Here are some extracts of writings by the art historian noted below on Cal-Gustf sending out some very clear messages to those running here.

He left his dog in the freezing cold of some luxurious ski resort and had erotic parties with teenage girls from the suburbs. Sibylla might have been able to help him with his separate- ness, letting him have his oilcloth while learning to separate the “me” from the “not-me”.  I know all about your secret life,/your feminine mystique,/your falsity./Your innocent promiscuity,/ and you hypocritical cruelty/hold no mystery/to me.  Felicia von Zweigbergk. 2011.    

Hippolytus slave puts it another way: “Gods ought to be wiser than men” – the tragedy is that they are not.They are amoral, impersonal, unfeeling, as Hippolytus in the end finds out for himself. In other words, man, in the full range of his capacity for goodness, for suffering and sympathy, is a creature on a higher spiritual level than the universe in which he is set to live. Felicia von Zweigbergk. 2011.  
Mediation is the goal of his father and Woodrow Wilson turned up at the signing
As well as the traditional themes of the aphorist: the hypokrisis of society, the vanity of human wishes, the sham of love, the ironies of death, the pleasure and necessity of solitude. Sontag Susan: Under the sign of Saturn.

Conclusion. ###3

An audacious, senses-shattering feature debut. A powerhouse international cast. This is some of the hype attributed to this film which I thought – and there will undoubtedly be disagreements (lately following Saul, having only last week seen The Prodger, an Irish play, the commemorations and memorial services, seen the exhibitions locally on the Somme, the miluea of articles can only affect more critical senses) – I found this film overwrought.  It is very well achieved in many parts and tries to be innovative without a rein or bridle.  It is aDirector breaking in his world of entertainment adventures and choosing a large subject which is tenuously and intermittently realised in its discovery and telling.  It is a very commendable film on the machinations of the art form being practice but some will find it two hours of over tedious and Tom Browns Schooldays sort of out of control child – we see Tanya, call the nanny nowadays as a guide or mumsnet.  Bérénice Bejo love pick up the phone or the mouse and Google tantrum child ADHD. On the other hand see the film read the Sarte book canon.

John Graham

17 August 2016

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from 19 August to the 25 August 2016.

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