A hearing in a French family court sets the course for this domestic drama.


Léa Drucker and Denis Ménochet


This is the first feature film from Xavier Legrand a French actor turned director who back in 2013 had a success with a half-hour work entitled Just Before Losing Everything. Unusually he has chosen to develop that piece for this feature debut using many of the same crew and inviting three actors, Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet and Mathilde Auneveux, to take their roles further. His decision was undoubtedly born of the fact that Legrand believes that the subject of domestic violence, although so prevalent, is too little discussed. Indeed, he has said that he made Custody in the hope that the power of the piece would help to raise public awareness of the issue, and powerful his film certainly is.


Legrand's approach here is admirably realistic eschewing a music score and leading us, with attention to the atmosphere that natural sounds can create, directly into a hearing before a family court judge (Saadia Bentaïeb). Two lawyers, also women, are appearing to argue a custody issue: Miriam (Drucker) is seeking sole custody of her 11-year-old son Julien (Thomas Gloria) while her ex-husband, Antoine (Ménochet), denying the abuse claimed including an injury to their now 18-year-old daughter Joséphine (Auneveux), is insistent on joint custody. He asserts that Julien's disapproval of him has been fostered by Miriam.


Watching this utterly life-like scene, we may conclude that we know who to believe, but since the key facts are contested, we could be wrong. What follows shows the tensions after the judge has opted to allow shared custody. Her reasoning is not given and the drama would be that much more convincing if we had been told at once that, as a balance, the judge has elected to permit Miriam to keep her address secret from Antoine. Nevertheless, the lies into which Julien is forced in an attempt to protect his mother from his ever-volatile father ring wholly true. Rather less telling is the footage involving Joséphine and her boyfriend: there is a long party scene in which she sings but which would only be relevant if Miriam's behaviour towards her was more pertinent to the main theme.


In fact, it is the impact of events on Julien and the film's portrayal of a woman fearful for the safety of her son and herself that are at the heart of this well-acted piece. It leads to a very strong climax - indeed, it's one that some audiences may find too disturbing to face regardless of where Legrand's sympathies lie. Furthermore, Custody is ultimately less subtle that Iciar Bollain's magnificent take on comparable subject matter, 2003's Take My Eyes. The fact that that film was made fifteen years ago reminds us that these issues are sadly nothing new, but their very persistence is a good reason to welcome Custody to our screens and much here is very impressive.




Cast: Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet, Thomas Gloria, Mathilde Auneveux, Mathieu Saikaly, Sophie Pincemaille, Émilie Incerti-Formentini, Florence Janas, Saadia Bentaïeb, Julien Lucas.


Dir Xavier Legrand, Pro Alexandre Gavras, Screenplay Xavier Legrand, Ph Nathalie Durand, Pro Des Jérémie Sfez, Ed Yorgos Lamprinos, Costumes Laurence Forgue Lockhart.

KG Productions/France 3 Cinéma/Canal+/Cine+-Picturehouse Entertainment.
94 mins. France. 2016. Rel: 13 April 2018. Cert. 15.