Xavier Legrand’s harrowing family drama about a bitter custody battle between a recently separated couple offers a raw, visceral and gut-wrenching account centring around themes of domestic violence and coercive abuse at the hands of a mentally unstable father of two. Staring Denis Ménochet (Mary Magdalene, Entebbe), Léa Drucker and Thomas Giori, Custody (Jusqu’à la garde) is the first feature-length film from the actor turned director who earned an Oscar nomination for his brilliantly received short-film debut Before Losing Everything in 2013.
After being granted joint custody of their 11-year-old son Julien (Giori), despite protestations from the boy and his 18-year-old sister Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux), Antoine (Ménochet) and Miriam (Drucker) Besson find themselves locked in a bitter dispute which is exasperated by Antoine’s incessant demands and abusive behaviour towards his terrified estranged wife and their two children.
It soon transpires that there is far more to the separation than meets the eye, when Antoine appears to be increasingly angered by what he sees as an attack on his rights as a father. Taking most of his psychopathic anger and frustration on his young son, Antoine soon descends into full-blown stalker territory when he realises that things are being kept away from him, which in turn results in a terrifying stand-off between the former couple.
Ménochet’s depiction of a man consumed with rage and violence is truly outstanding. A scene in which Antoine is confronted by his own parents about the way he has been conducting himself towards his own children, offers an insight into the mind of a severely disturbed, angry and sociopathic individual who genuinely believes that everyone else is out to get him. Léa Drucker is also impeccable in her depiction of a woman terrorised by a man she thought she knew. However, it is without a doubt Thomas Giori who put in a fantastically scene-stealing turn as Julien. The young actor more than excels in a hugely demanding role from someone of such a young age.
Xavier Legrand has managed to successfully translate onto the screen some evocative and highly disturbing images which could resonate with anyone who has ever suffered abuse at the hands of a spouse or a parent. His ability to create a sense of urgency and terror are what makes Custody into one of the most realistic films about domestic violence ever made. Successfully avoiding the usual pitfalls relating to family dramas, the director is very conscious of never having to resort to superfluous expositional devices or unnecessary melodrama.
Overall, Custody delivers exactly what it set out, by offering a believable, heart-wrenching and truly outstanding narrative which is further elevated by its hugely talented cast. Legrand, who writes as well as directs, should be commended for avoiding facile storytelling tropes, choosing instead to offer a narrative which is as terrifying in the ordeal its protagonists go through, as it is brilliantly well-judged in its denouement. A truly astounding piece of filmmaking.
Custody is in cinemas from Friday April 13th.