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Review: Parental dread in separation drama Custody

PUBLISHED: 08:34 20 April 2018 | UPDATED: 08:41 20 April 2018

Writer-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: Picturehouse

Writer-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: Picturehouse

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Writer-director Xavier Legrand’s feature debut is a continuation of his award-winning short Just Before Losing Everything about a terrified wife wriggling free of the suffocating grasp of her abusive husband.

Writer-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: PicturehouseWriter-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: Picturehouse

Custody (15)

****

A 15-minute custody hearing is a daringly slow way to start any film, let alone one that is being pushed as a thriller. It works though.

Writer-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: PicturehouseWriter-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: Picturehouse

Calmly and methodically, father Antione (Denis Ménochet) and his wife Miriam (Léa Drucker) explain why he should/shouldn’t be allowed visitation rights to their two children, particularly their young son Julien (Thomas Gioria).

Watching it you’re aware of two things. Firstly, the evidence that is being presented here has next to no bearing on the reality of the situation. Secondly, whoever the judge sides with, it is going to be the wrong decision. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a film.

Calling Custody a thriller is doing it a disservice really. It is a domestic drama which builds up a terrible sense of dread and foreboding, and manages to do so without ever doing anything that breaks its sense of realism. It could be based on a true story. In fact, it is a kind of sequel/remake of the award-winning short, Just Before Losing Everything, Xavier Legrand directed a few years ago.

Writer-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: PicturehouseWriter-director Xavier Legrand debut feature Custody. Photo: Picturehouse

The French director’s impressive debut feature demonstrates a gift for building long enthralling sequences that are completely naturalistic. Halfway through there’s a long party scene that lasts maybe a quarter of an hour and the viewer is completely inside the situation.

The cast is excellent. It’s a great irony that Ménochet’s most famous role, the farmer trying to hide Jews from Nazi Christophe Waltz at the start of Inglorious Basterds, was as a hero because with his spherical face, razor repellent cheeks and general resemblance to Popeye’s nemesis Bluto, he looks a natural born villain.

As his wife, Drucker is hardly a presence in the first half of the film but comes into her own in the second.

The most compelling performance though is young Thomas Gioria. His apprehension at having to sit in a car with a parent, his fear as he is ground down by their manipulation goes a long way to making the film such a gruelling experience.

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