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Custody (Jusqu’à la garde) – Film Review

Custody (Jusqu’à la garde) – Film Review by P. Viale

Director: Xavier Legrand
Writer: Xavier Legrand (screenplay)
Stars: Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet, Thomas Gioria |

Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, director Xavier Legrand’s début full-length feature film does exactly what it says on the tin, it tells the story of the effect of a custody decision on the life of an 11 year old boy. Beginning with an impersonal court hearing where the presiding official shows little empathy for either parent and pays no attention to the wishes of the young boy, Julien (a remarkable performance by Thomas Gioria in his first acting role), the film covers the following weeks in Julien’s life and his struggle to survive the difficult situation he finds himself in.

At the hearing, his mother, Miriam (Lea Drucker), explains that the breakup of the marriage is due to the violent and controlling behaviour that her husband, Antoine (Denis Ménochet) has shown toward their daughter, Joséphine, and asks that she be given sole custody of her two children. The judge, however, grants Antoine weekend visitation of Julien. As Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux), is nearly 18, she is allowed to decide for herself whether she wants to continue seeing her father or not. Antoine, however, is forced to spend time with his father which he does everything possible to try to avoid.

Legrand, skilfully, leaves his audience uncertain at the start of the film as to who is the villain of the piece. Is Antoine the brutal man that Miriam describes or is she motivated by more selfish reasons? Is Julien manipulating his parents for some personal motive? Glimpses into private moments of each of the characters make us question the truth of their assertions. Gradually, however,  as the situation becomes clearer, a sense of threat and menace is created, ready to explode into action at any moment, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

In his 2014 Oscar winning short film, “Just Before Losing Everything”, Legrand had shown what led to the end of the marriage and the struggle Miriam had gone through to finally leave a man she had really loved. Here we have a continuation of the story, seen through the eyes of her young son, but there is no need to have seen the earlier film to make sense of Custody.

Avoiding the distraction of an intrusive musical score, Legrand’s authentic portrayal of domestic disharmony and the claustrophobic world he creates where both the victims and the perpetrator are imprisoned by their situation, is utterly compelling.  The accumulative effect is harrowing and it is almost a relief when the credits finally roll. Custody is often profoundly distressing but that’s precisely the point. Don’t miss it.




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