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Custody (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 8, 2020



Starring Denis Ménochet, Léa Drucker, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveux, Mathilde Saïkaly, Florence Janas, Saadia Bentaïeb, Sophie Pincemaille, Émilie Incerti-Formentini, Jérome Care-Aulanier, Mathieu Saikaly, Florence Janas, Coralie Russier, Jenny Bellay, Martine Vandeville, Jean-Marie Winling, Martine Schambacher and Jean-Claude Leguay.

Screenplay by Xavier Legrand.

Directed by Xavier Legrand.

Distributed by Kino Lorber. 93 minutes. Not Rated.

A quiet melancholy simmers through French theatrical star-turned-director Xavier Legrand’s devastating domestic drama Custody (Jusqu’à la garde).

The movie is a continuation – not quite a sequel, not quite a reboot, but more like a next chapter – of Legrand’s 2013 Oscar-nominated Short “Just Before Losing Everything (Avant Que De Tout Perdre).” That film was a heart-stopping narrative of a woman named Miriam (Léa Drucker) trying to get herself and her children out of an abusive marriage with her charming, but brutish and controlling husband Antoine (Denis Ménochet).

Custody returns to the same characters, the same situation and mostly the same cast. (The young son Julien is now played by Thomas Gioria, replacing the short film’s Milgan Chatelain.)

Miriam finally escaped from Antoine at the end of the short, but the new film starts with the husband’s cruel game of trying to insinuate himself back into the family unit by suing for joint custody. Miriam and Antoine and their lawyers fight their cases before an arbitrator in the early scenes of the film. Miriam explains that the children do not want to see their father, calling him “that man” and telling of episodes of abuse. Miriam is obviously shy, intimidated and a little shell-shocked.

Antoine, on the other hand, seems rational and charming. He insists that his ex has poisoned his children against him, and that he is hurt and horrified that his children have come to think of him as any kind of danger.

With no hard proof of abuse, the arbitrator must follow the law and allow the father visitation.

Daughter Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) is 17 and close enough to an adult that she has the right to refuse to see her father, but younger son Julien (Gioria), at 12, has no choice but to spend every other weekend with his father.

Antoine quickly uses a litany of bullying and psychological torment trying to use Justin to get himself closer to his ex. Miriam has changed her number, won’t tell him where she is living, and will only meet Antoine to give Justin over for the weekends at her parents’ home.

This puts Julien in the uncomfortable position of having to lie to his father to protect his mother, and of often getting caught in those lies. Through intimidation and sheer obsessive determination, Antoine gets closer and closer to his ex-wife, virtually stalking her in the guise of trying to patch things up.

The acting is pretty stunning here, particularly the young Gioria in the heartbreaking and difficult role of the son. Legrand works well with his young star – probably due to the fact that the director was also a child actor, having played a substantial role in Louis Malle’s classic World War II film Au Revoir les Enfantes.

It is not necessary to have seen “Just Before Losing Everything” to enjoy and understand Custody, but watching the short, even going back after you have seen the feature, does add even more levels and subtle shadings to the new film.

Sometimes Custody is a difficult film to watch, but it is also a stunningly trenchant, realistic and important movie. Not all art should be comforting. Custody has an important story to tell, and it tells it with subtlety and tact.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: July 27, 2018.

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