In 2014, filmmaker Xavier Legrand received a Best Live Action Short Oscar nomination for Just Before Losing Everything, about a woman fleeing her abusive husband. Going back further, the former child actor got his start at 7, appearing in Louis Malle’s 1987 classic Au Revoir les Enfants.
Legrand’s nerve-shredding debut feature Custody is the continuation of the short in its depiction of post-divorce domestic strife: that of Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Ménochet). 12-year-old Julien (newcomer Thomas Gioria) is the couple’s traumatized son—or pawn—cruelly manipulated by Antoine in his attempt to restore the broken marriage. In the film’s opening moments, a presiding judge must determine whether to believe Miriam’s claims of domestic abuse or to give Antoine the benefit of the doubt, and by extension, award him shared custody of their son. When Julien’s own damning testimony is taken into consideration, Antoine counters that it’s the byproduct of Miriam’s brainwashing tactics: “I don’t know what she says to him.” Cut to some days later, the judge has rejected Miriam’s request, granting Antoine weekend visitation rights. As the film wears on, the suspense reaches a sobering crescendo as Antoine grows more monstrous—his potential for ungovernably volcanic fits dashing all hopes of averting irrevocable tragedy.
If it has never really occurred to you before what a strange word “custody” is—how its two meanings, guardianship and imprisonment, are complimentary yet also inherently at odds with one another—Legrand’s otherwise understated film is sure to turn that over in your head repeatedly.
Custody bowed in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival, going onto pick up two big prizes: Best Director and the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for Best Debut. It also picked up the Best Film honor in the Platform sidebar at Toronto. Legrand is a ready-made auteur to keep an eye on.
[Editor's Note: At the request of Custody's U.S. distributor, our in-depth interview with Legrand at this year's Macao will go live in June 2018—timed with the film's unannounced release date.]
The 2nd Annual Macao International Film Festival & Awards runs December 8-14.