Following on from his fantastic short film ‘Just Before Losing Everything’ (2013), Xavier Legrand returns to the same scenario in his first feature film ‘Custody‘. Miriam (Lea Drucker) has left her husband Antoine (Denis Menochet) and is seeking sole custody of their son Julien (Thomas Gioria). Each of the parties fights their case vehemently, and the film drives down a riveting road at speed.
The first scene presents itself in the legal setting as Miriam and Antoine sit alongside legal representatives and a judge to decide on a temporary arrangement for custody before a final agreement is reached. This immediately constructs the central opposition with the film and both halves of the couple are adamant that their version of events is correct. The camera captures each case bought forward with clarity. The editing is fast-paced and shows facial expressions, the dialogue is full of interruptions. The composition of the opening is ruthless and hooks the audience in.
As the film progresses Julien is clear that he does not want to spend time with his father. At first, he says very little, and then is pressured to negotiate in a series of unreasonable circumstances. Child actor Thomas Gioria, working here on his first feature film, is captivating. He manages to show an unflinching cold shoulder toward Antoine who is trying to manipulate each conversation they have. There is an unspoken sense of anxiety in these scenes. Even when Antoine becomes controlling, Gioria gives an idiosyncratic performance as Julien.
The rest of the cast all deliver performances that are astonishing, especially when their characters confront life-changing sets of circumstances. Menochet brings Antoine to the screen in a quite frankly frightening tone and plays out this unique character whose judgments and actions are forceful and impossible to ignore. Drucker is unshakeable in the part of Miriam and is supported by 18 year old daughter Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) and some other minor characters.
The determined acting and well written script combine to create a tension within the film that is constantly on the verge of bubbling over. The narrative is very well considered, and we follow Julien’s experience of the separation in a concrete, grounded reality. This is forced to extremes repeatedly, yet does not feel abstract at any point. The camera is eager for us to see the whole scene; in the car, for instance, the camera shows us both passenger seat and driver seat in the same frame, cutting to individual close-up only at specific moments in the conversation. It has clearly been scrutinised with attention to detail.
It is surprising that ‘Custody‘ is the first feature for Legrand in the director seat, and the first film for Gioria. This is intelligent filmmaking that brings together a gut-wrenching story with characters that have real believable urgency. It reaches a conclusion after the tension festers continually, and one of the characters reveals their true evil to a shocking end.
Drama | France, 2017 | 15 | 13th April 2018 (UK Cinema) | Picturehouse Entertainment | Dir. Xavier Legrand | Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveux