Custody [2017]: ‘TIFF’ Review

When a marriage falls out, it definitely changes the lives of the spouses in question. The suffering that the kids go through is even more intense. The constant juggling between the two peers becomes a kind of chaos that shapes their life thereafter. Legrand’s film does deal with the effect of a broken marriage on the kids, but it doesn’t take that specific dramatic arc. Sorted from the perspective of 12-year old Julien & unfolding in the matter of a few days, “Custody” explores domestic terror right through the gates.

Opening at the magistrate office and slowly taking us into the battle that’s going on, Legrand keeps pushing a sense of doubt for anyone watching the two sides of the coin. As the mother of two children, Miriam’s (Lea Drucker) lawyer presents a strong case against the bulky father Antoine (Denis Menochet). She claims that Antoine has been a loser all his life and has terrorized the lives of Miriam & her two children. As a letter from the 12-year old child is read out, we are almost convinced that Antoine is a threat. However, the lack of proof of any physical violence done on his part (possibly with the 18-year-old daughter) deploys the judge’s decision, conceiving more nightmarish circumstances for Julien.

Julien’s sister is 18-years-old and the law doesn’t abide her with the joint custody. Hence, the young boy, whose distress we already know through the letter is subjected to more of it. Let me tell you one thing straight – Antoine seems to have acquired certain control over his actions but Legrand’s film, that shows a kind of urgency puts us right there with Julien as his anxiety & dread rise. The film pushes us in a situation where tension seeps through the drama & you subsequently feel more drawn into the family without much of a look back into their world. The director chooses to show us an aftermath that feels more dreadful than what might have come before. Hence, without spending much of his limited screen time, Legrand acquires a kind of tense atmosphere that pushes this drama about domestic violence into a rhythmic thriller territory.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

After watching the film I think it’s safe to say that some people just can’t get the beast that resides in them to make sense. Antoine is one of those people who are beyond repair. For opportunistic cinema watchers, the constant bewildering aroma thrown around his character might be a steady tension riser but for anyone who is aware of films that deal with the toxicity of a person,  his character isn’t too hard to decipher. Which only makes the kind of doubt created by Legrand as a wrong narrative controller. The loose threads such as his daughter’s pregnancy & wife’s new boyfriend don’t really serve much of a purpose, either.

However, it all comes down to Legrand’s direction to this slightly fractured narrative. He excels with the terrific screenplay in hand. Pitching in tense scenes one after the other, the Oscar nominated director (for his short film “Just Before Losing Everything” (2013) – also set in a similar territory) gives some flesh and power to his disturbing debut feature. Treading into a claustrophobic atmosphere, he pushes you into a domestic offset you never want to be a part of. Gioria who plays the young Julien is a complex mix. He portrays a child like naivety and supremely protective adult behavior as he can clearly decipher his father. Gioria is a revelation and probably the strongest aspect of the film. The framing of shots, mostly in the last act of the film, is also worth a mention.

Despite playing on familiar notes, French filmmaker Xavier Legrand’s debut feature film about toxic masculinity plaguing the lives of a family brings the terror home. The fear that shadows their life is so intense and real, that watching the film feels like being there besides the camera as the terror takes a toll on you.



Director: Xavier Legrand.
Cast: Denis Ménochet, Léa Drucker, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveux.
Cinematography: Nathalie Durand.
Editing: Yorgos Lamprinos.
Producer: Alexandre Gavras.
Production Company: KG Productions.
Production Designer: Jérémie Sfez.
Screenplay: Xavier Legrand.
Sound: Julien Sicart, Vincent Verdoux, Julien Roig.
US Sales: Celluloid Dreams.
Publicist: Wolf
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams.

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