This chilling fable about the rise of fascism in the 20th Century tells the story of a young American boy living in France in 1918 whose father is working for the US government on the creation of the Treaty of Versailles. What he witnesses helps to mould his beliefs - and we witness the birth of a terrifying ego. Loosely inspired by the early childhood experiences of many of the great dictators of the 20th Century and infused with the same sense of dread as The Others and The Omen, The Childhood of a Leader is an ominous portrait of emerging evil.Written by
The long shot towards the end of the advisers and counselors signing the papers took 8 takes, and 18 people to operate the camera and crane. See more »
In his first scene, the boy's father regrets that his son is "acting out." This pop-psychology expression would not exist until at least fifty years later. See more »
The tragedy is not only that Pontius Pilate betrayed his self but that hundreds in the crowd before him did betray their selves. And that's what I wrote was the tragedy of war. Not that one man has the courage to be evil but that so many have not the courage to be good.
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You're led to expect something really powerful and frightening by the opening shots of World War I and a nerve-jangling, portentous score. And, indeed, your expectations are well rewarded when the child of the title...wets his bed! plays an angel in the church Christmas play!
It's hardly a bold or singular premise that a disturbed childhood will create a damaged, perhaps dangerous adult. But the movie's portrayal of cause and effect is so simplified as to be ridiculous. Plenty of neglected children--the condition is hardly the rarity the filmmakers seem to think, especially among wealthy people 100 years ago--grow up to be normal adults. Some become nasty ones. Some, in reaction, become humanitarians. If the cause and effect are so cut and dried, why don't we have 50 million fascist dictators? Could it be because a great many emotional and intellectual attributes, a great many factors of class and opportunity and geography and history are necessary for someone to become a fascist dictator? An unhappy childhood is hardly the only qualification!
The script and director also ignore the most basic rules of portraying an unhappy childhood, rules that have been followed by every writer and director of merit. First: If you cry, they won't. Kipling, Graham Greene, Henry James, Dickens--everyone who has done this well has shown the mistreated child suffering in silence or near-silence, so that the reader or film-goer supplies the emotions of sadness and anger and indignation. In this film, however, the child is constantly outraged, insolent, aggressive, at times violent, so he pre-empts all our emotions. It is hard not to regard him as simply a nuisance and a bore. Second, feeling sorry for a character is not enough to make us like him or even be interested in him. The boy is front and center in almost the entire film. But he never does or says anything interesting, charming, sweet, selfless, funny, quirky. All he does is throw tantrums. Kids like this are one of the things I go to the movies to get away from!
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