Custody – film review

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Jusqu’à la garde

dir. Xavier Legrand

France 2017

Custody turned out to be a dark horse of last year’s Venice Film Festival. The film delighted not only the audience but was also noticed by the jury – Xavier Legrand left Italy with the Silver Lion award for the best director and won prestigious Lion of the Future prize, given to the best debut film. And as for the first production, which is based on director’s previous short film, we are dealing with very mature cinema, well-thought-out and – most importantly – making viewers emotionally engaged.

Before you go to the cinema, I have to warn you. A real genre crossover awaits you, growing organically as time passes. And at first, it may seem boring, because we are watching a social drama that the French love to shoot. There is even more realistic cinema later on, which gradually begins to transform into a psychological drama, a thriller, and Custody ends on the note of the most terrifying horror. All the more frightening that every day this is being experienced by families around the world.

custody-trailer

Before the judge, in the company of their attorneys, Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Miriam (Léa Drucker) meet, fighting for the protection of their underage son – Julien (Thomas Gioria). From the relationship presented by the children – Julien has an already adult sister, Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveu) – we learn that the father is a brut, unpleasant type that causes problems and each meeting with him leads to the outbreak of aggression. A lawyer representing the man has completely different evidence. Antoine has a good reputation among colleagues at work, and some nervous behaviour results only from fatherly instinct and a willingness to take care of his son, which was taken away from him. We are guessing that during these confrontations both parties bring out the heaviest assets, and without concrete evidence, this ends only as one opinion against the other. The judge finally admits the father the right to see his son every other weekend. During this time, Miriam moves out from her parents and rents a flat, which location does not want to reveal her husband for some reason.

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Xavier Legrand perfectly matched the actors with their roles and Denis Ménochet copes perfectly, giving away the nuances of his character. Antoine in Custody looks like a gentle teddy bear and has a dense, boyish face, but he gradually shows his true nature of an obsessed, explosive man, a manipulator and a brut who should seek mental advise. „Gradually” is the key here, because nothing happens right away. At first, it is a raised voice, then gestures of nervousness, slamming the door until the situation gets out of control. Watching Léa Drucker is equally shocking – you can see fear and horror in her eyes, she is like a watchful animal that can become a predator’s victim at any moment. She is also a strong and caring mother who cannot be easily broken. The young actor playing Julien is also incredible: his fear, mental distress and confusion of the young age are more than clear in his performance.

The director treated Custody with great understanding and precision. The theme could not be more clear: there is no justification for violence. Every shot feels authentic as life can be. Simple and raw production values and lack of score bring this movie even closer to reality. The subject of domestic violence, lack of understanding on the part of the authorities, a leaky court system leading to tragedies, the indifference of neighbours and friends strongly resonate with the viewer. Custody is perhaps one of the most important social films recently made in Europe. A movie that will leave you shaking inside.

Verdict: 9/10

A Picturehouse Entertainment release premiered in cinemas across the UK on the April 13th.

Trailer:

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