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Reviews - The Childhood Of A Leader

The Childhood Of A Leader

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

The Childhood Of A Leader
The Childhood Of A Leader
Sometimes film reviews are easy to write, sometimes not; if 'The Childhood of a Leader' had been a Hollywood blockbuster action movie there is no doubt it would have been easy; 'rubbish!' would be all that was required....BUT this was an art movie, with beautiful photography and a message to tell us, which makes it a wholly different 'game of soldiers' (pun intended). It still leaves the questions though; what was it trying to say? Was it any good?

First the story: we follow a young boy, Prescott, through 3 'tantrums' (the film was divided up into these for us to see his development), getting steadily worse until he finally hits his mother over the head (maybe even killing her?). Then the scene switches to a military rally (apparently in Russia) where a young leader gets out of his car to bask in the glory of the crowd (was this supposed to be him grown up?) That would be it, in action terms, but the background was more important here.

The boy's father was an American diplomat working in France on the peace negotiations at the end of WW1. Brilliant he may have been at negotiating, as a father he was useless. Definitely of the 'children should be seen and not heard' school, he switched from disinterest to violent anger and back as the days passed, more interested in looking good before his friends and allies.

The mother was trying to do what she could for Prescott, but was unable to reach him. She seemed to be suffering from both post-natal depression and an unwanted marriage, her only prop being the church. Prescott treated her like an annoying child he couldn't get rid of.
This left the boy in the hands of the servant (this was a RICH family), who spoilt him behind the parents back, but seemed to at least try to love him, and the paid French teacher who had some success with him until she refused to let him put his hand on her breast; both of these women were sacked by the mother; he is left with no adult he can trust, no-one to love him.

So what was the message here? Well...we spent an hour in the pub discussing it, so it was thought-provoking at the least! My view for what it is worth: every time the camera followed the father negotiating, or a Soviet committee meeting, the sound was turned down and obscured. I think this was to show the secrecy of the 'adult world' to the boy's view, encouraging him to believe he was all alone, teaching him to manipulate people, not to trust anyone. At the same time there were historic shots of battles and political leaders doing deals, and some beautiful arty shots of a global, glass roof, and lifts going up and down, which were used to show the world turning, time moving on and – finally - the rally; the world, everywhere, was turning to violent extremes.

The last camera shot focused on a small girl before spiraling away, once again, to the glass ceiling: small children had no idea what was going on, they were misled in all directions with our young anti-hero becoming a fascist leader (or Soviet; it matters not which in this message).
One last thing needs mentioning; the music, written by Scott Walker, which was hugely important – giant, militaristic, Wagnerian and LOUD. The film started with an 'overture' section, showing how dominant these feelings were the world over.

To me, then, a good film, though, to be honest, most of the audience didn't agree! Maybe this review MIGHT help..? IF not, I am sorry!

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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