Cellos ring out in the first few moments of the film during Scott Walkers Avant garde score, music that will keep you on edge even after the film has ended. Why? Because Cobert’s film combined with Walkers dramatic score reveals and subtly discusses traits in society, characteristics of past world leaders, current world leaders that still ring true today and more frighteningly in the not so distant future.
The plot of the film is as the title states, the childhood of a young boy living in post world war I France with a German born mother and American father, who then grows up to be a fictional powerful fascist leader. Society makes the man and/or brings out the sociopath that was buried not so deeply inside. Avant garde score, post world war I, middle class family woes may all sound high brow and “try-hard” but there is something very accessible to the way this has been filmed and written, hauntingly so.
Society today is an inherently misogynist, ultra-violent, white supremacist, capitalist mess. So it is not surprising that when we see the little boy inappropriately touch his French teacher he misunderstands her offense. Because if you want something and you’re a man you go out and get it-by any means and if you have the power you can be excused for your discretions.
What I enjoy most about the film and Independent cinema in general are the subtle moments and hints that Corbet leaves us to form our own opinions. It is implied that both parents are having affairs, the father with the beautiful French teacher and the mother with English writer played by Robert Patterson. He begins to understand that the sanctity of marriage or church is sometimes only used for appearances. That the power to make women and people who are thought of as “below” feel uncomfortable and vulnerable in order to keep people in control, with the subtle or not so subtle uses of force and dominance can be more important than holding sacred values.
Sex and violence linger throughout the film: in the little boy’s tendencies towards the female breast, the almost brutal punishments used by his father in order to discipline him and the constant displays of power and apathy showed by the mother in her interactions with those of lower social class. All of this leads to the resulting harrowing episode nearing the end of the film and the emergence of a fully blown sociopath.
To bring this discussion into more contemporary events we don’t have to look too far to find an example, the perverse characteristics of Donald Trump, not only a personification of the vices of modern society but also a man that too many are willing to follow. As Patterson’s character remarks (more or less) in the film “It is not about one man being evil it is about the majority not wanting to be good.” Europe is seeing a rise in right wing nationalism not only in the fringes of society but politically, those willing to stand with and under fascist ideology all in the name of western ideas of freedom and autonomy. The refugee crisis, Brexit and the recent acts of terror have created a breeding ground for fascist ideology embedded in roots of violence, misogyny and white supremacy.
The French ban against the Burkini is only one of the countless examples of the effects of this hot pot of circumstances. But I believe it clearly demonstrates the misogynist, white supremacist, violent ideology that can come out of countries who feign that they are fighting a cultural/political war against all that is Other. Ask yourself this, who does this effect? Brown and black women, Other women, women who have been fetishized, killed and oppressed throughout history by European imperialism. They use their guns and legislation to force Muslim women to feel uncomfortable, to feel like they don’t belong, to reduce their space, to reduce their freedom and by consequence their ability to feel human, to feel strong and empowered.
So I finish on this, when we see acts of evil will we be willing to stop them?
The Childhood Of A Leader is out now at selected cinemas