The Childhood of a Leader, loosely based on a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre, is set in France in 1918 and 1919. It is divided into an overture and three long episodes, each of which is marked by a tantrum. The tantrums are caused by an androgynous child (Tom Sweet). The child’s young mother (Bérénice Bejo) is European, the child’s older father (Liam Cunningham) is an American government official helping negotiate the end of the Great War at the Paris Peace Conference. As the child’s relations with his father become increasingly antagonistic it becomes clear that the defiant child is a metaphor for Germany, which was forced into accepting onerous terms at the Treaty of Versailles. At one point the father twists the child’s arm and repeatedly screams, “We are going to Versailles!” Since the child becomes an authoritarian leader, the movie seems to support the notion that the Carthaginian peace forced upon Germany created an environment that  fostered Nazism. Although The Childhood of a Leader has a slightly charged, suspenseful feel to it and an ominous, dreadful, and eerie tone, a slow-burn thriller it is not. Its payoffs are mild and the final scene is confusing because an actor (Robert Pattinson) switches roles. Even if the movie’s rich production design, art direction, costume design, and cinematography make each frame look like an oil painting, director Brady Corbet’s reliance on Art Film tropes makes the movie slow and dull.

In English & French.

By Alec Julian & Carrie White



  1. I like this excellent review more than the actual film. By reading review I realized, perhaps I was not attentive and perceptive to the undercurrents in the film.

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