The film chronicles the childhood of a fascist leader in the period immediately following World War I. Production began in early 2015, in Budapest, Hungary. The film had its world premiere in-competition (Horizon section) at 72nd Venice International Film Festival on 5 September 2015 and won two awards at the festival, Best Debut film and Best Director.
In 1919, an American boy living in France with his authoritarian parents witnesses the creation of the Treaty of Versailles, which shapes his beliefs and causes him to develop a terrifying ego.Bérénice Bejo as The Mother
Liam Cunningham as The Father
Stacy Martin as Ada
Robert Pattinson as Charles Marker / adult Prescott
Tom Sweet as Prescott, The Boy
Yolande Moreau as Mona
Jacques Boudet as The Priest
Michael Epp as Mr. Advisor
Roderick Hill as Older American Gentleman
Brady Corbet began writing the script of the film ten years ago on his own but later put it down as he considered it "too big" for a debut film. He later pick it up again after support from his partner Mona Fastvold. On 1 April 2013, it was announced that Corbet was set to make his feature film directorial debut with a France-set World War I film, based on the script he co-wrote with Mona Fastvold. Corbet would produce along with French producers Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre and Chris Coen, as well as Istvan Major. Film Producer Helena Danielsson of Hepp Film also came on board to get the film additional financing.
In 2015, Corbet said that the script of the film was inspired by Robert Bresson's Mouchette, Maurice Pialat's Under the Sun of Satan, Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Day of Wrath and Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.
On 10 December 2013, it was announced that Juliette Binoche, Tim Roth and Robert Pattinson had joined the cast of the film. In August 2014, it was announced that both Binoche and Roth had left the project. Roth dropped due to scheduling conflict while Binoche citing the reason that it was "too dark". The same month Binoche and Roth were replaced by Bérénice Bejo and Liam Cunningham.
Corbet talking about the casting and characters in the film said that
I have intentionally not revealed the identity of (the boy who will become leader) character. And it's a funny thing because it's not for the reasons that people think. One thing I will happily tell everybody is that the character is not Hitler [laughs]. And the character is not Mussolini. It's someone else. And there's the dramatic event where you learn who this person is and that's something I want to save for people. Robert Pattinson is not playing Hitler as you now know [laughs]. I'll go on the record saying that.
Corbet held auditions for the casting of the role of Prescott, describing it as "(we) held simple auditions (one page of text) for the boys reading for the main role. Des Hamilton and his great team found Tom Sweet and brought him in. Tom was everything we had envisioned and more. He is the film’s greatest triumph."
Production was originally slated to start from November 2014 but later moved to January 2015. Pattinson describing the film said that "It's about the youth of a future dictator in the Thirties, like an amalgamation of Hitler, Mussolini and some others." Bejo talking about her character in the film said that "(I'm playing) the character of a mother whose son is very particular, a little awkward and weird. Over the scenes you're realizing that it is not a normal guy, he'll become a monster or something. And it is about the relationship with the mother and father."
Principal photography began from 30 January 2015 in Budapest and continued till 1 March 2015. On 3 February 2015, filming took place at Buda Castle and Hungarian National Gallery.
Singer-songwriter, composer and record producer Scott Walker composed the score of the film. The soundtrack album released by 4AD on 19 August 2016. The Film served as closing film at 2016 International Film Festival Rotterdam, where the score of the film was performed live during the screening of the film.
Walker's score received positive response, as Gary Goldstein of LA Times said that it "impresses and fascinates", Donald Clarke of Irish Times called it "MVP" of the film, while Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian described it as an "almost Herrmann-esque orchestral score from Scott Walker. The touch of suppressed psychopathic rage comes from his music."
On 13 February 2015, Producer Chris Coen released the first image featuring Robert Pattinson, Bérénice Bejo and Liam Cunningham in their costumes. Another still featuring Pattinson, Bejo and Cunningham was released on 8 April 2015. Exclusive footage from the film screened at Marché du Film of 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Two clips from the film were released on 4 September 2015. On 25 October 2015, it was screened at Jacob Burns Film Center.
The film released in USA on 22 July 2016, in theatres and on VOD simultaneously by IFC Films. Originally it was to be released by Metrodome Distribution in UK but few days before its release the company filed for bankruptcy, after which Soda Pictures released it in UK on 19 August 2016.
The film received positive reviews from the critics, with emphasis on Corbet's script and direction, the performances from the cast, Scott Walker's music and Lol Crawley's cinematography. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 89% of 55 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.5 out of 10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Childhood of a Leader mirrors the rise of fascism in post-WWI Europe with a well-acted, confidently crafted look at one young man's unsettling coming of age." Metacritic gives the film a score of 68 based on reviews from 18 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
David Ehrlich in his review for Indiewire said that "With his unusually accomplished directorial debut, Corbet delivers a strange and startling film that reflects the unique trajectory of his career, as well as the influence of the iconoclastic directors with whom he's already worked." Lee Marshall of Screen International wrote a positive review for the film by saying that "The Childhood Of A Leader is as relentlessly sombre and compelling" and compare it with Michael Haneke's work that "it shares something of Haneke's dispassionate view of human nature, The Childhood of a Leader is in no way derivative. Dominated by dread, veering into art horror at points, this compulsively dark story takes no prisoners." Tommaso Tocci of The Film Stage called it "a huge psychological and tonal balancing act that could crumble at each turn, and yet never does." Guy Lodge of Variety called it "a overweening, maddening but not inconsiderable directorial debut for actor Brady Corbet, which plays as something of a straight-faced parody of a well-upholstered historical biopic." In his review for Eye For Film, Damon Wise said that "It sounds like a slow-paced chamber piece, and some scenes are, but a brilliant framing device involving a stunning orchestral score by, of all people, Scott Walker gives the film a nerve-wracking urgency." John Bleasdale of Cine Vu gave it five out five stars by saying that "(it) is a dark, enigmatic piece of work that hovers between visionary greatness and petty domestic triviality. Corbet's inaugural stint behind the camera marks a stunning debut and the finest film at Venice thus far."
However, Deborah Young in her review for The Hollywood Reporter said that "There is actually a lot of imagination at work in the film, though frustratingly it rarely comes together in an emotionally meaningful way."