Cus­tody

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★★★★☆ 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.

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