Custody (2017)

Review #1,563

Director:  Xavier Legrand
Cast:  Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveux
Plot:  A broken marriage leads to a bitter custody battle with an embattled son at the centre.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Silver Lion - Best Director (Venice).  Nom. for Platform Prize (Toronto)
Runtime:  93 mins
Rating:  PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language
International Sales:  Celluloid Dreams
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

One of the most impressive directorial debuts of 2017, Custody sees Xavier Legrand delivering a film of searing intensity that is very much reminiscent of the realist works of the Dardennes.  Based on the premise of a short film that Legrand wrote and directed called Just Before Losing Everything (2013), Custody centers on a broken marriage leading to a spiteful battle to gain custody of a young child.  The couple in question, Miriam and Antoine, is played with great dramatic nous by Lea Drucker and Denis Menochet respectively.  Menochet, if you recall his face, played opposite Christoph Waltz in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), in the film’s unforgettable opening chapter.

Here he plays a father who wants equal custody rights and bonding time with his son, to the chagrin of the mother who insists that her husband is violent and abusive.  Antonine counters that he has been unfairly misrepresented by his wife’s selfish and egocentric behaviour.  All these grievances are aired in the opening sequence of Legrand’s film which recalls that of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011).

What transpires after is a slickly-shot piece that is not just economical in its storytelling but shows Legrand that he is a filmmaker to watch out for.  Focusing on how domestic woes escalate in due course when resentment and bitterness aren’t handled with grace or sensitivity, Custody very much paints a picture of how a broken family affects everyone.  And in that sense, it is hard to imagine what people go through in real life in such scenarios.

The heartbreak, the anguish… and the fear of retaliation come palpably alive through Legrand’s delicate direction (he won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival) as the film details the stress and anxiety of being the embattled kid in the middle of the maelstrom.  I think a good companion piece to Custody would be the Russian marital crisis drama, Loveless (2017), by Andrei Zvyagintsev—it’s no wonder that the kid in that film ran away from home, setting up the premise for one of the bleakest pictures of last year. 

Despite its clean-and-crisp visual aesthetic, Custody is gritty insofar as the story unfolds with raw emotions.  And this is a testament to how Legrand privileges characterisation in order to create a drama—seemingly conventional and familiar at first glance—that takes you right out of your comfort zone.  Recommended!

Verdict:  Reminiscent of the searing intensity of the Dardennes’ realist works, Legrand’s directorial feature debut makes the fear of escalating domestic woes come palpably alive. 




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