★★★★☆ Dir Xavier Legrand nd Starring Léa Drucker, cker, Thomas Gioria Dur 94 mins
There’s a unidirectional agony to this psychological drama by first-time director Xavier Legrand. The focus is on a single, horrible situation, which gets steadily and unwatchably worse. It concerns a divorce and a legal hearing. Dénis Menochet plays Antoine, a glowering, heavy-set guy in dispute with his ex-wife, Miriam (Léa Drucker), about the custody of their 11-year-old son, Julien (Thomas Gioria). Antoine is allowed access to Julien, but is not allowed to know Miriam’s address, to interfere with their household arrangements – and certainly has no say in the matter of Julien acquiring a new stepdad. With icy rage, Antoine decides he has a right to know everything that’s going on and begins to turn the screw on his innocent, terrified son. The performances are frighteningly good – and without them the film would have been merely blank or histrionic. This especially applies to Gioria as the son, and more than any actor in any film I can remember, he conveys what emotional and physical abuse is like. Julien’s scenes with Antoine have to be watched between your fingers. The temptation is to compare Custody to Asghar Farhadi’s modern classic A Separation. But they are quite different. Custody doesn’t have the subtlety or nuance. The film it resembles more is something like Claude Chabrol’s L’Enfer, or Hell, from 1994, about a married man who descends into the horror of fanatical jealousy and paranoia. There is not much storytelling light and shade in Custody – but it has the shock and swipe of real life.