Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Brady Corbet's festival winner THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER hits theaters/VOD

Brady Corbet's an interesting actor. He has a quality that can so easily move from pretty-boy cool to creepy-guy strange. Contrast his work as the title character in Simon Killer with his supporting turn as the intelligent young film director in Clouds of Sils Maria. Now Corbet has made his first full-length film as director/co-writer (with Mona Fastvold), and it's every bit as oddball as you might expect from this young fellow. As its title proclaims, it tracks some formative time in the life of its titular character.

Corbet (the filmmaker is shown at right) has divided his film into "tantrums" that our child -- a pretty little boy whom we meet in the time between World Wars I and II -- throws whenever things do not go his way. One might think that a kid like this, given the time period (post-WWI) & place (Europe) would be knocked across the room during tantrum one, and that would end that.

But no. The mom and dad here (Liam Cunningham, at left, and Bérénice Bejo, below) are models of poor parenting in extremis. They are either missing in action or take no intelligent steps to help either their son (a bizarre and unsettling performance from newcomer Tom Sweet) or the situation. So, yes, bad parenting can lead to fascist tendencies. Unless of course the child in question is simply a bad seed -- and our little angel looks like one of the worst. In any case, there's plenty of blame to go around here,
including that of the nanny (that gem, Yolande Moreau, underused in this role), who coddles our little boy; and the kid's "teacher" (Stacy Martin, shown below, with young Master Sweet), one of whose duties would appear to be servicing the father, too. This little group also includes friend-of-the-family and political somebody named Charles (Robert Pattinson) who seems a bit too fond of mother.

What a group! But so what? Mr. Corbet seems to know his history of that time between the wars, and his scenes of powerful men working their power hold both interest and truth. His scenes involving the family, however -- though shot in color-drained hues and exhibiting fairly little dialog -- grow less and less involving and more and more repetitive as the film moves along. Surely there must be more?

And yes, there is. It comes with the finale, as we move a decade or more ahead in time to find the Pattinson character now somewhat enthroned and our child maybe serving him. And suddenly the movie which has been shot in quiet, subdued, stately fashion seems to explode, camera-wise, with the visuals going gaga, perhaps mirroring the craziness of this new era. (The costumes and sets are suddenly very neo-fascist drab-but-commanding.)

The music is pretty enthralling throughout (Scott Walker composed it), the cinematography (by the fine Lol Crawley) is worthwhile and fun to view, and the performances are as good as Corbet allows (he seems to want to keep everything at a very low simmer).

But what the film has to say about fascism and its origins is so thuddingly obvious and is never explored beyond the cursory that the film fails on its most important level. My spouse called it pretentious. I would not berate it thus, but simply say it does not work -- except in the most general and obvious of ways. Next time, and I am sure there will be one, please tell us something we don't already know.

The Childhood of a Leader, from IFC Films and running a very long 116 minutes, opens this Friday, July 22, in New York City at the IFC Center and next Friday, July 29, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. A further rollout in limited release is promised. Simultaneously with its theatrical opening, the film will appear nationwide via VOD.

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