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CUSTODY (Jusqu’à la garde)
Origin: French (sub-titles)
Limited National Release from 27 September 2018
Rated M/93 minutes

Genre: Drama/Almost Horror/Thriller

Social Justice Issues: Domestic Violence, Toxic Parenting

Awards: Best Director, Best First Feature Le Biennale de Venice

I give up!  This film was rejected by the Cannes Film Festival last year and I believe lost to ‘The Square’.  What were the criteria for Cannes? The film is brilliant and its critical that it reaches the widest possible audience in order to educate the general public about the insidiousness and despicable nature of domestic violence.  It’s a breakthrough feature that strikes at the heart of the issue and reflects society today. It’s also, in a sense, a work of art.

The first feature by former child actor Xavier Legrand, the film is economical, superbly acted, nerve-wracking and the direction is masterful.

The film opens with a scene in which Miriam (Léa Drucker) and her ex-husband Antoine (Denis Ménochet) are being questioned by a judge (Saadia Bentaieb) over the custody of their 12 year old son, Julien (Thomas Gioria).  Their daughter, Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) is almost 18 and old enough to make up her own mind. Julien has stated in writing that he wants nothing to do with his father. The judge, intending to be impartial, listens carefully to both sides of the argument.  Miriam makes it clear that her husband has harassed her and been violent and she requests that her son not be forced to see him. Antoine is calm, rational, at times charming and of course, manipulative. He demands the right to see his son.

The judge controversially determines that Antoine be allowed weekend access to the boy.  (So much for the child’s voice!) The decision reinforces the message that the law is created by men for men and there’s a long way to go!  Even more alarming is the fact that the judge is a woman! Domestic violence and its impact are often underestimated by both sexes. It’s the societal brick wall.

Miriam, we soon see, has taken steps to keep the location of her present residence a secret from Antoine, and we determine how much she fears him.

Antoine badgers his son demanding he reveal the whereabouts of his mother.  If the audience hasn’t realised it already, they begin to register how dangerous, even psychopathic Antoine really is.  His treatment of his son is despicable. Thomas Gioria as Julien is stunning in the role as is Denis Ménochet as Antoine.

Legrand is a master at creating tension with economical ingredients.

Particularly unnerving is the scene of a party taking place in a hall to celebrate Josephine’s birthday where she entertains everyone by nervously singing Proud Mary, preoccupied by a sense that a crisis could eventuate.  The viewer becomes alert to the fact that Antoine may have gate crashed the event and that something terrible could happen.

Antoine successfully conveys that violent, vengeful emotions are consuming him and may precipitate even homicide.

At its climax, the film could become full-on  horror but Legrand is firmly in control. We witness an horrific scene which depicts domestic violence as grim, ugly and despicable and the suffering of the victims is heartrending and immense.  The audience can only have profound sympathy for Miriam and Julien.

As for Antoine, it’s an education in misogyny at its peak and the terrible conflicting elements within his personality.

This is an important film, scrupulously depicted.  A vital film; a must-see.

Dianne Helen Edwards


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