“This has happened before, and it will continue to happen again and again.”
In 1919, journalist Charles (Robert Pattinson) discusses World War One with the Father (Liam Cunningham) in a villa outside Paris. There, the Father bullies his younger polyglot wife (Bérénice Bejo) and their son Prescott (Tom Sweet), and misbehaves with Prescott’s tutor Ada (Stacy Martin) – when he is not in Paris helping Wilson’s team draft the Versailles treaty. Notoriously, it would end one global conflict, only to sow the seeds for the next. Here, history is doomed to repeat itself.
In his feature debut as director and co-writer (with partner Mona Fastvold), actor Brady Corbet (Thunderbirds) confines momentous global events of 20th century history to the background, while focusing instead on the parallel conflicts in this household.
In the middle is Prescott, sexually uncertain, caught between cultures and absorbing lessons in adult conduct. As Prescott acts out, his mother, instructed to reimpose order by her absent husband, treats both the troubled boy and her staff in increasingly dictatorial fashion.
The film is a domestic tragedy that is also a parable of politics and power. His formative childhood is glimpsed as a series of elliptical impressions, leaving viewers with an enigmatic mosaic that they must piece together for themselves, guided minimally by the film’s title and occasional chapter headings.
Meanwhile, Scott Walker’s extraordinary soundtrack keeps all these disparate scenes driving ever forwards with great intensity to their bleak alt-history future. It’s an adult film about Europe’s (and the world’s) permanent pre-adolescence.